Henrik Sandin Photography

This weekend, avid rock climber and SFI Postdoctoral Fellow Christa Brelsford won a gold medal as a member of the American team in the Paraclimbing World Championship, hosted by the International Federation of Sport Climbing. 

Brelsford's gold medal is in the Women Amputee Leg category. 

See the results at climbing.com.

A climbing enthusiast since childhood, Brelsford has persevered in the sport despite losing her right leg in the 2010 Haiti earthquake. 

“Climbing is my stress release. It’s what I do to reset,” Brelsford says. “So for me it was never a question of if I would climb, it was just what I would climb and how I would do it.” 

Brelsford was in Haiti in January 2010 helping her brother with a literacy project during her winter break from graduate school. She was working in a building just three kilometers from the epicenter of the earthquake, near Léogâne, when a roof collapsed. A falling stairwell crushed her right leg.

In the turmoil that followed the magnitude 7.0 quake, two Haitian friends dug her out of the rubble and transported her -- six kilometers on the back of a small motorcycle -- to an emergency triage camp at a UN peacekeeping mission. Thirty hours later, Brelsford was in Miami for emergency surgery. Five days after her hospital discharge, she was back in the climbing gym. 

“The things I enjoy about climbing are the mental puzzles -- I’m at the bottom and I want to get to the top. With the body I’ve got and the strength that I have, how am I going to get there?” Brelsford says.

Her love of climbing as a puzzle speaks to her background in engineering and sustainability science. At SFI, she works with SFI Professor Luis Bettencourt studying urban slums, and she is helping create an app to determine the most efficient ways to deliver services to under-developed neighborhoods. 

“I’m lucky in the sense that I’ve always had the chance to do research that I think is morally important,” Brelsford says. “That’s why I’ve sought out the experiences that I have, including doing things like going to Haiti. And, yeah, I wish I still had two feet -- who wouldn’t? But I don’t regret any of the choices that I made that led me there. I still really do believe that my most important purpose in life is to use science to make the world a better place. And here at SFI I am doing the science that’s the best way I know how to contribute to doing so.”

Read a feature story about Christa in the Santa Fe New Mexican (November 23, 2014)

Read an Arizona State University feature article about Christa (September 17, 2014)

See Christa's photos on her climbing Facebook page 

Follow Christa at the Paraclimbing World Championship on Tumblr

Support her literacy program

Read her survivor story in Today (January 15, 2010)

Read her survivor story in Women’s Health magazine (August 5, 2010)