07/06/15 at 04:25 PM by Staci Bradbury

“Look at him go!”

Shouts and cheers filled the air as James Tarantella deftly scrambled to the top of a slanted rock wall in a bright orange helmet, mere seconds after beginning his ascent.

While he’s made a career of mounting telephone poles as a line mechanic for an electric company in Maryland, rock climbing presented a unique challenge.   

“I was trying to grip and grab without being able to feel my fingertips,” Tarantella said, lightly landing on the ground next to the wall and untying the belay rope. 

He lost feeling in several fingers after coming into contact with an energized wire during a stormy night in May 2014. His first memory of the accident is waking up two weeks later in the hospital.

Doctors told him to expect recovery to take at least a year and a half.

The first year passed slowly, as Tarantella attended physical therapy and had countless surgeries. He passed mundane hours sitting on the couch watching television.  

“I felt like I was sidelined,” he explained. “I was in a funk.”

But that changed when his occupational therapist invited him on a trip to Colorado to visit the Adaptive Sports Center. He set out for the mountains with her and two other burn survivors from the Washington, D.C. area, unsure of what to expect.  

He first found himself first staggered by the enormity of the western countryside – the craggy peaks with melting patches of snow and fields of wildflowers – and then caught up in a new, adventurous daily routine.

“At home I didn’t have structure,” he explained. “But everything here is set up to help you that structure back.”

White-water rafting, biking, rock climbing and chatty group dinners replaced the monotonous television. Tarantella discovered he could thrive, even with just one hand fully functioning.

“You don’t feel like a novice coming into it,” he said. “The staff here is amazing – they make you feel like a friend or family member instead of a stranger.”

During his final day, the line mechanic found himself already planning his next trip to the Adaptive Sports Center, while still sitting in the shadow of Mt. Crested Butte.

“This place heals your spirits and lifts you up,” he said. 

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