CWU News

CWU Recreation Center and Staff Facilitate Courageous Kids Climbing

The only program of its kind, Courageous Kids Climbing will take place just 15 times this year in Washington, California, Idaho, and Nevada. One of those sessions was held Saturday, August 11, at the rock-climbing wall in CWU’s Student Union and Recreation Center.

Jeff Riechmann, from McCall, Idaho, founded and self-funds the program, which involves sponsoring free climbing events for children with special needs.

“We say children, but we invite anyone between the ages of 3-months and 103-years with special needs, physical or developmental, to participate in this event,” Riechmann pointed out, noting that there were seven participants of different ages and needs that participated on Saturday. “We’ve also worked with wounded warriors, even cancer survivors.”

Melissa Robertson, CWU Recreation Climbing Wall and Challenge Course coordinator, added, “By hosting events like this, we are increasing the awareness that we are all capable of so much more than we often believe.”

The goal of the event is to help participants acquire or develop skills such as hand-eye, hand-foot, and left-right coordination; focus; and problem solving.

“For some, who are confined to a wheelchair, we help to get them from a horizontal to a vertical world,” Riechmann added.

That included Taysha Snyder, 21, from Royal City, who attended the CWU event along with her 20-year-old brother Zach. Taysha, who suffers from Down Syndrome, has come to the Central session for each of the three years the university has hosted the event. This year was special for her, and her adoptive mother, Sena. Both Taysha and Zach are adopted.

“Because of my daughter’s anxiety, she wouldn’t do anything with the harness without me being right there,” Snyder said. “This year, she’s doing exactly what they’re asking her to do.”


Not only that, but Taysha actually made it to the top of the CWU rock wall—50 feet in the air, to her obvious delight, not-to-mention that of her mother. Zach, who is autistic with additional neurological complications, also showed significant gains from previous years, particularly in terms of his confidence level, according to Sena.

That came as no surprise to Aubrey Edwards, a junior at CWU, serves with the CWU Recreation staff supervising the rock-climbing facility. This was her second year working with the Courageous Kids Climbing event.

“You can see it constantly throughout the day—the confidence definitely grows tremendously,” Edwards stated.

Even so, Edwards acknowledges that the participants can be a bit awe-struck, even intimidated, upon seeing the CWU wall site for the first time.

“This was definitely crossing new boundaries for some of them, who had never climbed before, but everyone climbed super hard today,” Edwards said. “The kids came in to test themselves and test their limits, and their parents really loved to see them climbing.”


Robertson noted that CWU climbing wall student staff went through specialized training required to support adaptive events, with a goal of “hosting more programs like this one throughout the year. I also hope to integrate people of various abilities into our existing programs and encourage them that climbing--and all forms of recreation--are achievable for anyone and everyone.”

Riechmann says, based on the success of the Ellensburg event and the positive feedback he has received, he plans to return to CWU for an annual Courageous Kids Climbing event next year and, “for as long as the university will have us,” he added.

Robertson is already looking forward to next year’s event.

“This is such a great opportunity for my student staff to learn how to serve people of various backgrounds and adapt to their individual needs,” she continued. “The soft and technical skills gained from engaging with participants from events like this can be transformational not only to the participants but to the staff as well.”

Media contact: Robert Lowery, Department of Public Affairs, 509-963-1487,