26-Year-Old Climber With Klippel-Trénaunay Syndrome Swings Tools to New Heights

Staying positive and turning pain into triumph ... This is Matt Westlake's story.

Twenty-six-year-old climber Matt Westlake spent much of his life in and out of a wheelchair. He has Klippel-Trénaunay syndrome which is a super rare disease where the veins grow uncontrollably like cracks through a shattered window. Then the blood pools, which causes poor circulation, blood clots and lymphedema, along with a many health issues.

Matt Westlake relaxing after a successful climb. Photo: Courtesy of Tyler Shelson

Most of Westlake's trouble is in his left leg, which is almost double the size of his right because of all the lymphatic fluid. In the worse case scenario, there is a chance that one day amputation will be the lesser of two evils for Westlake.

Although Westlake is prepared to lose his leg if need be, he tried a very risky procedure a few years ago. Doctors injected liquid nitrogen into the worst areas. This procedure could have gone one of two ways. The first: Westlake would have substantially less pain and be able to move. The second: Westlake loses his leg immediately.

Westlake on a mixed climb. Photo: Courtesy of Tyler Shelson

The procedure went well and Westlake moved to Canmore, Alberta, Canada to begin rock climbing, which was his childhood dream. Canmore has the highest concentration of sport climbs in Canada. When Westlake got to Canmore, he searched climbing gyms online and found the Cave. The Cave isn't a typical climbing gym because it is where all the mixed climbers train. Westlake soon discovered mixed climbing and fell involve with swinging tools. He also found his mentor, Jyoti Venne an older more established climber.

“Matt never complains about the pain. This kid's not even suppose to walk. He is a miracle,” Venne tells ASN. “He is a very positive and passionate climber. He reads up on mountain literature and knows the history of climbing, which is a rare thing with this generation.”

It is crazy for Westlake to mix climb because he takes blood thinners and has a ton of blood in his bad leg. Swinging ice tools and wearing crampons could be a recipe for disaster, but he wears a compression stocking and always comes with a great attitude. We spoke with Westlake about his love for climbing, keeping bright spirits and his wishes to share his passion.

Westlake training at The Cave. Photo: Courtesy of Tyler Shelson

What do you love most about climbing?

At first it was about the joy of climbing. What I enjoy the most about climbing now is the struggle. I’ve had to adapt my style of movement and pain threshold in order to climb better, stronger and faster. It keeps me motivated to try and be better than myself who, in my opinion, is my greatest competitor.

Secondly, being able to escape the rat race of everyday life by immersing yourself in stunning environments, bare of any sign of civilization. Lastly, the people you meet along the way; the partners you share a rope with.

How do you stay positive with the possibility of losing your leg?

I stay positive because of the light under closed doors. I believe that no matter what, there is always a chance to flip negative into positive. It may not be a simple switch you can just hit, but it’s within reach.

What are your plans for the future?

My future plans involve one of my biggest projects. I would like to start a foundation that provides the equipment and opportunity for children with physical disabilities.

I think it’s important to start at a young age; a child has not been taught what they can’t do yet. With the help of adaptive equipment and devices there are no limitations to what they can do. Whether it’s biking, hockey, skiing, archery or ballet.

If there’s a product designed for ease of use to aid someone with a disability, then that’s what I’d like to be able to provide.

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