Amputee recovers from horror accident to chase Paraclimbing glory

After a skydiving accident left him with a broken back and a shattered right leg, Keith Lynch was told he would never walk again. Less than seven years later he is not only back on his feet, but also climbing walls that most people would never dare.

Paraclimber Keith Lynch.
Paraclimber Keith Lynch.

This weekend the 42-year-old amputee is among the competitors taking part in the Paraclimbing Cup, which is being held in Scotland for the first time at the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena in Ratho.

The event is taking place alongside the Climbing World Cup, attracting more than 2,000 visitors to the capital including competitors, support teams and spectators from around 25 different countries.

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Paraclimber Keith Lynch.

Lynch, who is originally from Edinburgh but has now settled in Penicuik with his wife and children, is hoping to challenge for the top prize in his category.

He has enjoyed a remarkable ascent in the sport, becoming Scottish Paraclimbing Champion in 2016, only two years after he took up the sport following the amputation of his lower right leg.

In May 2010, he was left with life-changing injuries after a skydiving accident in Perthshire. He made his first jump five years earlier while raising money for Cancer Research, after losing his mother to the disease, and has since completed more than 700.

“When I came in to land, I made a low turn and got caught in a bit of turbulence,” he says. “I hit the ground hard. If it wasn’t for the fact that it had been pouring down with rain the night before, and I landed on a bit of softer grass, I wouldn’t be here talking to you today.”

Paraclimber Keith Lynch.

For 40 minutes, Lynch lay on the ground of the airfield, struggling for breath. He was airlifted to hospital in Glasgow, but in the process his broken femur severed his femoral artery and caused internal bleeding.

Doctors told him he had broken his back in three places, as well as his ankle and three bones in his leg. In hospital he suffered septicemia and had to have several blood transfusions.

In the end, surgeons removed 80 per cent of the muscle from his calf and 60 per cent from his quadriceps. “What I was left with was basically a few bones hanging from my hip, not doing a hell of a lot,” he adds.

After eight months in hospital he was discharged, with doctors advising him he may have to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. “I thought: ‘That’s not an option’. There was something inside me, I knew I was going to walk again,” he says.

Amazingly, he went back to skydiving following his accident, after being haunted by a recurring dream where he was unable to land.

“It’s the old thing: if you fall off your bike, the first thing you’ve got to do is get back on it and ride it again, don’t be scared of it. I suppose I needed to get it out of my system,” he says.

In January 2013 he had his leg amputated, but only a year later he was keen to try a new challenge and took up climbing. One coaching session a week turned into two, then three.

He has since competed in several national and international tournaments, climbing alongside people who have overcome severe disabilities to excel at the sport.

“For me, just being able to climb with these people is enough,” he says. “It’s totally breathtaking, watching some of these people climb with one leg, or one arm, or paralysed. They’re just so strong and determined, it’s amazing.”