You don't have to be able to see to climb an indoor rock wall. Belayers at River Sports Outfitters help the visually impaired succeed at this sport.
A club in town likes to tandem bike on Sundays in Knoxville.
It's called Club VIBES. People who can see pilot the bikes and people who are visually impaired, or blind, pedal on the back - in the stoker position.
In this cold weather the group is trying some indoor recreation.
Members of Club VIBES scale the walls at River Sports Outfitters in West Knoxville. Emily Stroud and Jim Martin
Indoor rock climbing requires a climber, a belayer, and a strong rope.
"Top rope climbing is called such because the rope is already at the top of the wall and you're going to have someone belaying you, which just means holding the rope, and you're going to climb up the wall as they take the slack out. And one you get to the top they'll just lower you back to the ground," Andy Ludwig said.
He is River Sports Climbing Gym Manager. He makes sure everyone stays safe and he coaches beginners on the finer techniques.
"There's a lot of movements where a lot of people think you're just pulling straight down but you're going to really want to twist in to grab stuff. It's a lot of counter intuitive stuff," he said.
The view most climbers see when they tackle this high indoor wall is straight up with knobs of various colors protruding at irregular intervals. But the people climbing on this particular say don't see it. They're blind or like 17 year old Joe Tibbetts they are visually impaired.
"I have retinopathy so light is my biggest thing and I'm not the best with colors either," he said.
The climbers are in good hands.
"You can reach for and be guided by your belayer, the person who is holding you, to tell you kind of like up a little bit more to the left so you can reach the grips. So whether you have low vision or no vision you're kind of guided by that person to tell you where your next hand grip or foot grip is," Sue Buckley explained.
She is the founder of Club VIBES: Visually Impaired/Blind Enhanced Services. And just like these other Club VIBES members, she's an avid indoor rock climber.
"One of the belayers was here saying why aren't you doing it today? You're just like a monkey all the way to the top. I'm like, thank you for calling me a monkey, I appreciate that," she said.
"I really love it just because it's something I can do. So many people, especially in VIBES, we're not used to being able to do stuff like that so whenever we get the chance we love to," Joe said. "I think the beauty about it is it's not like other sports like baseball and stuff because you can't see the ball coming at you."
The first Saturday of every month from 9:00 to noon River Sports Outfitters offers free adaptive climbing clinics.
"If you're a wheelchair user or blind/visually impaired, doesn't really matter. if you're a disabled athlete to give it a try. Or disabled person who wants to try to be an athlete," Sue said.
Andy said, "It's cool enough seeing an able bodied person climb all the way to the top and make it and that's really gratifying. And when you see somebody who doesn't think they can do that go up and do that, it's really cool."
Applause of support come from the crowd on the floor when climbers make it to the ceiling.
When they're at the top of the wall they're on top of the world.