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November 2000

Dreams do come true!

By Judith Geppert

Judith with Sydney Harbour Bridge in background (includes web address for Physical Difference www.e-bility.com/adventure).

Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb

In 1955, I went for a drive in an open MG sports car, across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Being a child I was both transfixed and totally in awe of how this mammoth steel monolith could be put together and stay up without collapsing into the harbour. This was my first encounter with this Sydney Icon and the beginning of my 'love affair' with the Bridge. Since that day, I have collected a few items relating to it. Over the years I have travelled across it by car thousands of time, been under it by boat and have past it aboard the Manly Ferry. All the time being drawn to it and marvelling at its structure.

On the 1st, October 1998 the Sydney Harbour Bridge became a climbing tour, under the name of BridgeClimb.

This is when my dream began. I decided that I wanted to go 'over the top' and experience the ultimate thrill of not only climbing this great landmark being 134 meters above sea level with 360 degrees views of Sydney and walking across the top but also being the first wheelchair-dependent person to do so.

After a few phone calls my dream began to vanish, I was told that it was not even an option because I was severely disabled.

As I have cerebral palsy, I have not allowed these words, or indeed the condition itself, prevent me from enjoying my life to the fullest. I have been told "you can't do that", "you are too disabled" or "you must be mad to want to do that, you might get hurt". Over the years I have gone tandem skydiving, hot air ballooning, parasailing, solo sailing, surfboard riding and co-piloted a car around a racetrack at 200kph etc. So when in August I was approached by a National TV Current Affair Program to allow them to present a story on my many achievements, I was asked what my next goal was, you guessed it, I said "to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge".

After some discussion with BridgeClimb, it was agreed upon that I could climb the bridge, only if we could guarantee the safety of myself and the climbers who would assist me. As I couldn't walk it was decided that I would be piggy-backed up.

Judith watching other climbers on the bridge.

Preparing for the climb

Earlier in February I had met Kent and Maria Marchant of PhysicalDifference (a small business that specialises in Outdoor Adventure Challenges for people with Disabilities.). I discussed with them the possibility of my dream, to climb the bridge, so when I received the OK from BridgeClimb I contacted Kent to see if he would assist me.

He said yes, we then had less then two weeks to devise a harness, get it made and have it passed by BridgeClimb. It was decided that I should have two climbers, Kent was going to piggy-back me up and Trevor, who offered to help, was going to piggy-back me down.

Kent and I set forth to design a harness which could be attached to either him or Trevor, could be compact enough for the narrow walkways on the bridge and yet it had to have all the safety aspects which BridgeClimb wanted (eg. centre of gravity had to be kept low). Once we came up with a diagram Vertical Innovations International Pty Ltd commissioned AirSupport Pty Ltd, one of their suppliers, to kindly make it up for us.

Friday, 8th September came, it was a beautiful sunny day but there were 40 knot-winds blowing, so I decided to take the ferry over to Sydney. As I sailed passed the Harbour Bridge I couldn't believe that my dream was only hours away. (I remember sitting besides a young lady on the ferry and saying "I am going to climb the bridge today". She just looked at me and said "I don't think so, they don't take disabled people up there". I tried to explain to her how I was going up, but all she said was that it was impossible). Never the less, I wheeled around from the ferry to the BridgeClimb Office, here my friends were waiting for me. After a meeting with the people who were going to accompanying me on the climb, it was time for my adventure to start.

Judith looking at HB bearings on bridge.

Bridge tour

First the BridgeClimb Guide took us on a tour around the base of one of the Harbour Bridge's arches. Here we saw the foundations for the four main bearings, which carry the full weight of the main span which were dug to a depth of 12.2 meters and filled with special reinforced high-grade concrete laid in hexagonal formations. Then I was fortunate enough to be able to drive my wheelchair along the footpath on the bridge itself. Here I could see the steel decking that hangs from the arches which holds the roadway in place and see between the steel girders. Not only did I get to touch the bridge, but I also learnt a lot about its history.

The excitement was building, it was almost time for my climb. We all had to change into specially designed "Bridge Suits" worn over our personal clothing. Then I was put into the harness and attached to Kent who was going to piggy-back me up. Also I was attached to a static line which was going to be attached to the railing of the bridge for the duration of the climb. Then it was time for the long haul to the top.

At midday we started, slowly we climbed up from beneath the roadway on to the road itself. This was just wide enough for one person, let alone with me attached on their back. Once on the road we were allowed to use a glass lift which went from the road up to the beginning of the arch. This area is known as Pitt Street it is at the base of the eastern arch. (Normally this lift is not the usual route which climbers use). Once at the beginning of the arch it was time for my dream to become reality.

On top of the world

The ascent began, very slowly at first until Kent got use to the angle of the arch and the 40 knot-winds. The higher we climb the more spectacular the view, stopping only occasionally for photos and to allow other groups of climbers to pass. The exhilaration and personal satisfaction which I felt when we were slowly getting closer to the summit and knowing that I was getting closer to my goal.

Time seemed to have stood still now, it took us well over a hour to get to the summit. Waiting at the top was a group of climbers who gave us three cheers when we crossed the arch. Here I was detached from my harness and allowed to sit on a small chair - just taken up for this occasion - so I could take in the view.

There was now one thing left to do to complete my dream. With Kent and Trevor on either side to support me, I managed to walk across the top of the two arches of the Bridge.

Group photo taken on Bridge summit with Opera House sails in the background.

When time came for our decent, it was Trevor's turn, he piggy-backed me down to the Pitt Street area at the base of the western arch. It was a bit hairy at times because the winds never let up and the angle of declining the arch. It was 4pm when we finally had our feet on the ground and I was safely back in my wheelchair again.

Spectacular viewsJudith and Kent Marchant on bridge summit looking out towards the Sydney Opera House - beneath photo are the logos for Physical Difference (stick person jumping) and Vertical Innovations (graphical "V").

Over the years I have done a lot of memorable things but this has to be one of the best. I will never forget this experience of being "on top of the world" looking down on Sydney and remembering a quote I heard "You don't have to walk, to go the distance".

 

Judith's Sydney Harbour Bridge climb was proudly supported by PhysicalDifference and Vertical Innovations International Pty Ltd.  BridgeClimb provided Judith's Climb experience as a one off event for Judith and the story was screened by Channel 9 on A Current Affair.

PhysicalDifference
www.e-bility.com/adventure

Vertical Innovations International Pty Ltd
Quality systems for adventure, challenge & play.
www.vertical.com.au

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