West Point graduate Charles Baldinger straps in for a go at the climbing wall at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass, Colo. (Photo by Heather King).
West Point graduate joins more than 300 veterans for Winter Sports Clinic
By Heather King
Traveler, poet, and gypsy soul Jack Kerouac said, “In the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb the mountain.”
Charles Baldinger climbed the mountain, and everything else. Despite a life changing fall, he continues to climb. His mountain conquests include: The Red River Gorge in Kentucky, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and the Catskills in New York all before the age of 20.
Baldinger started climbing as a young boy and kept climbing all the way to a spot on the U.S. Military Academy at West Point as a young adult. It was there an indoor climbing accident would change his life and some might argue save his life.
Baldinger was about 15 feet off the ground when, suddenly, his arm locked, and he couldn’t reach for the next hold. He struggled to breath, his body went stiff and he fell to the ground. He woke up in the hospital two hours later. He didn’t break anything but in reviewing his CT scan doctors discovered a golf ball sized, cancerous tumor in his brain. Surgeons at Walter Reid Army Medical Center removed the tumor, but he woke up to complete right-side paralysis. Baldinger had yet another mountain to climb, both physically and mentally. He was up to the challenge. Chemotherapy and months of physical therapy lead to a full recovery and a return to active duty at WestPoint.
From there he completed his Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology before medically retiring on February 29, 2012. Today, Baldinger has a master’s degree in Exercise and Nutrition Science and has his own personal training business. He also works as a Research Assistant at Vanderbilt University in pursuit of a Ph.D.
Recently, his cancer returned. Once again he is paralyzed on his right side. Still, Charles refuses to give up on climbing. As a result, he is here at the Disabled Veterans National Winter Sports Clinic. “I know it will be fun and I’m excited to see the prosthetics and adaptions.” He is excited about rock climbing again too. “Rock climbing means freedom; it is a test of ingenuity and skill.” While this is certainly true, rock climbing can also be described as a metaphor for life. You fall, you get back up and continue to climb. Whether you succeed or not, the climb makes you tougher, stronger.
For more information, visit the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic website.