Visually Impaired Tulsa Man Becomes World-Class Climber

Thursday, November 22nd 2018, 12:07 am
By: News On 6

Justin Salas is one of the best athletes in Tulsa you may not have seen or even heard of. But he's the best in the world at what he does, which is climbing.

He became the best is a remarkable feat in never giving up hope in life.

"I had gone through a stint of depression in my life kind of mourning the loss of the sense," says Salas

At first, you see the accomplishments of climber Justin Salas, he was a world championship Gold medalist this year at the International Federation of Sport Climbing in Innsbruck Austria in September. But his life story is tattooed on his body with quotes like “Walk by faith, not by sight.”

Salas is an adaptive climber because he's legally blind.

At the age of 14, Salas lost his vision. Doctors call it optic neuropathy of unknown origin but Salas refuses to give up.

"I want to keep progressing in life so, I want to scare myself," says Salas.

A friend introduced him to climbing and bouldering.

"I kind of assumed you needed to see to climb. It's one of those things where it's kind of like life or death and he was like no you kind of just feel around," says Salas. "Not only was it something I found out I love more than anything else I had tried in the past. It was something that a career path for me."

He's a 2-time medalist in the B-2 category for visually impaired climbers in the world. A couple month ago a Gold Medalist.

The obvious question of how does he do it? Salas explains it as having the opposite of tunnel vision. Looking forward he sees something similar to a static television in his central vision, but his peripheral vision perfectly clear. As for the rest, he has the help of a trusted friend.

Matt Frederick:  "My initial reaction to him coming in was a new challenge. I had to adapt the way I was teaching and for me, that's engaging," says Matt Frederick

Frederick is Salas' caller, through a headset Frederick is his eyes and Salas uses feel to reach the top.

"I'm only relying on him to tell me like what the next move is or what the next hand or foot position is. That trust just carries on between everything else," says Salas.

Climbing has helped Frederick with his teaching and it's helped Salas go from depression to a career. The Olympics will be introducing climbing and bouldering as a sport in 2020.

"You never know what's around the corner but you just got to keep going," says Salas