John Olsen visited Moab Friday, May 18 to pursue his love of climbing, despite struggling with epilepsy. Led by Cliffs and Canyons guide Chris Murray, Olsen dedicated this climb to drug-resistant epilepsy and never giving up hope.
“I always say to overcome something, you do things gradually,” Olsen said. “Gradually things happen, and you can do things that you have never done before.”
Olsen has been climbing for four years now, but even before that, he was summiting in Colorado where he lives. Since he was diagnosed with drug-resistant epilepsy at the age of four, adventuring in the outdoors has come with significant difficulties. “He had major brain surgery since he was 13, which unfortunately was unsuccessful,” said Tom Olsen, John’s father. “He’s definitely an overcomer. He’s fought a lot of issues in his life. He calls the outdoors his sanctuary. What I mean by sanctuary is my life in the outdoors. I grew up to be an explorer and a skier and climb different climbs and do all sorts of outdoors stuff.”
On his Friday climb, John climbed several routes on the popular climbing destination called Wall Street on Potash Road. “John takes it as a challenge,” Tom said of John’s climb. “He struggled with this one climb that was up about a hundred feet, and it had some tough areas, but John never gave up. He was very persistent.”
“I did rock climbing when I was young indoors gym climbing,” John explained, as to his interest in coming to Moab. “I like the challenge.” Chris Murray of Cliffs and Canyons led John’s climb.
“He is an awesome man to work with, and he showed me all the right techniques about safety and climbing and all the fun things I can do,” John said. “It was awesome. Phenomenal.”
“They really understand disability, and they understand the seizure disorder, and they’re so accommodating when they take him up,” said Tom, of Cliffs and Canyon’s guide work.
For John, climbing is about more than just being outside.
“One of John’s things, he likes to share his climbing with kids,” Tom said. John often visits children’s hospitals and relays his stories about climbing to inspire them. “Keep climbing your personal mountain and never give up,” John explained. This is the message he leaves the children with, along with a climbing carabiner.
John has many more adventures planned in his future, and he plans to be back in Moab soon. “Even though he could be struck at any time with a seizure, he does it anyway,” Tom said of John. “He lives his life.”