After having suffered a life-changing brain injury at the age of 21, Kenneth Ellacott had to learn to walk again whilst learning to adapt to a new neuro-physical condition that affects the left side of his body and reduced his vision and hearing. Talia Lazarus interviews Kenneth on how discovering climbing led him to his place on the GB Paraclimbing team and a whole new community.
“I decided I wanted to be a physical education teacher, so I went to Edge Hill University in Liverpool. Four weeks passed, I woke up in a hospital,” explains Kenneth. Strength, perseverance and exceptionally inspirational. Kenneth's is a truly remarkable story about how climbing changed a paraclimber’s life post-accident.
In 2012 at age 21, Kenneth Ellacott suffered a life-changing brain injury. He woke up in hospital unable to move or talk and could only see out of one eye. Kenneth had been in an accident. He had fallen and a steeplechase hurdle landed on the back of his head. He fractured the base of his skull and the fracture was pushing against an artery in his brain. He was told there and then it cannot be operated on as this would create more brain damage.
Kenneth had a stroke and was induced into a coma to help him recover. Twenty-five weeks passed whereby he moved around three different hospitals. He learnt to walk again. However, he was constantly falling over and consistently being told off by the medical team. He never stopped trying.
“One thing I will never forget from my time in the hospital was when the doctors told my parents that I will never be able to live a normal life and will always require help. I remember saying to myself that I don’t believe what the doctors said. I can be better than before my injury.”
Kenneth Ellacott climbing at the Paraclimbing Master’s Competition, Austria, 2018
Now learning to adapt to a new neuro-physical condition, the left side of his body is always painful, his left eye has only 30% vision and he cannot hear out of his left ear.
Fast forward two months, Kenneth ran the London Marathon in an astonishing time of four hours. He wasn't letting his injury stop him.
In 2015 Kenneth started climbing. Whilst undertaking his undergraduate degree, a university friend invited him bouldering. He went thinking he would be able to attempt the sport with the use of only one hand. When bouldering, he noticed that it was helping him manage his pain levels and allowing his left hand to work. After one year of bouldering, Kenneth heard about a climbing competition for paraclimbers in London.
Climbing top rope for the first time, Kenneth came second in his category. In his first competition, he came second. This spurred him on to train harder.
A year passed, and he was winning his category. Not only that, he was chosen for the GB Paraclimbing Team. From 2017- 2019 during his time on the team, Kenneth became the UK number one in his category and sixth in the world for it.
However, due to the intense training, Kenneth had to compete in more advanced categories. He was competing against climbers with fully functional bodies. Kenneth and his coach believed it to be incorrect categorisation. Nevertheless, he did not let this stop him. Continuously persevering, Kenneth was now sixteenth in the world in his category.
Experiencing ups and downs in his training, he has also attempted wheelchair basketball and para-rowing. However, nothing can replace climbing. Since 2021 Kenneth is now climbing 2-3 times a week and visits the gym 2-4 times.
“Without climbing, I would not be who I am today. Without climbing, I would not have met my beautiful wife. Without climbing, I would not have gotten strong. Without climbing, I would probably still be in bed.”
A climbing proposal
After meeting co-founder of Paraclimbing London Anoushé Husain in 2017 at a climbing competition, the couple's lives revolve around climbing.
Kenneth explains, “I proposed at a climbing wall in the middle of a competition. I hid the ring at the top of the wall. On the floor, roses were leading to the route. When she arrived at the top, I had large cards in my hands asking her to marry me.”
The paraclimbing community has shown Kenneth that everyone can climb no matter what. It is an encouraging sport that has multitudes of opportunities and options for experienced climbers, beginners and everyone in between.
With the dream to continue climbing all over the UK, Kenneth loves to explore the outdoor climbing routes as it requires a lot more thought about reaching the top and finding the right holds to use.
For those who want to try climbing but are too afraid, Kenneth explains, “The first step onto climbing is going through the door of the centre. Find a club near you and ask for assistance. They may be able to help you with equipment and teaching. You never know something until you try. Never give up, never say you cannot do something.”
With an undergraduate degree, a Masters degree and a post-graduate diploma under his belt, Kenneth works for the NHS as a mental health worker in a mental health ward. His dream is to compete internationally again, training with his wife and fellow paraclimber Anoushé Husain..
WATCH: If I Can on BMC TV
Listen now 🎧
Finding Our Way is the new BMC podcast where our guests are as diverse as the outdoors should be.
Hosted by BMC Hillwalking Ambassador and TV Broadcaster Mary-Ann Ochota and Expedition Leader and equity champion Cress Allwood, the podcasts aims to diversify the people we normally hear talking about the outdoors, celebrate their stories and shine a light on their insights.
Listen and subscribe on your favourite podcast apps: