You climb like a one-legged girl! Most people would take this as an insult, but it’s a compliment to Heidi Duce. The 17-year-old high school senior spends every weekend wielding an axe and hugging the frozen walls around Ouray, Colorado.
Heidi was born without a calf bone, a rare disease known as fibular hemimelia. Her climbing partner, Sydney Tall, was diagnosed with bone cancer at age six. Both girls underwent a leg amputation at a young age.
Although Heidi grew up in the ice-climbing mecca of Ouray, she didn’t start whacking ice axes until this year, when a family friend and mountain-rescue team member, Chris Folsom, introduced her to the sport.
Heidi’s amputation posed a few technical challenges, but Folsom figured if she had the will, he would find the way. He consulted with Heidi’s prosthetist at Shriners Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City. Scott Hosie provided the equipment and the technical expertise necessary for Folsom to build a crampon that Heidi could screw into the bottom of her leg.
Like all beginners, Heidi tackled the kids’ wall, a 60-foot WI 2 toprope. She was 20 feet into her ascent when the crampon snapped. Heidi fell but never lost her composure. Instead, she learned to trust her safety gear, and with that confidence came a growing and insatiable hunger for harder and higher climbs. The fear and work that you put into it, she says. I love every bit of it. When you top out, it’s the world’s greatest high.
Folsom and the girls are forming a nonprofit called Amped, which will host up to 10 youths with disabilities or war veterans in Ouray every winter for a week of ice-climbing instruction.