Having climbed mountains and cliff faces across the world, Paul Pritchard fell to his near death from Tasmania’s famed climbing destination, the Totem Pole. He was struck by a rock that had dislodged when he fell, and left partially paralysed by the accident. Yet Pritchard persevered. Last year, 18 years on from the accident, he climbed the Totem Pole again.
“Climbing is in my blood,” he tells The Adelaide Review. “It would have been a slow death had I given up adventuring and sleeping in the dirt.”
His traumatic experience and inspirational perseverance was catalogued in an episode of Australian Story last year and is the subject of the award-winning feature documentary Doing it Scared. Pritchard is currently in the midst of a nation-wide speaking tour, and will speak in Adelaide on Tuesday, July 4 at the Mercury Cinema.
“It is a four-metre-by-65-metre sheer needle of rock, rising straight up from the sea,” says Pritchard of the towering Totem Pole. “It’s the most slender sea-stack in the world. It is now world famous (I made sure of that) and a draw card for the global climbing community.”
He describes returning to the Totem Pole to finally make it to the top as “the closing of an 18 year loop”.
“It represents support,” he says. “I couldn’t climb the Totem Pole the way it is normally climbed (with two hands and two feet), I climbed a rope up the Totem Pole. With the support from that rope and the strong team of friends I distilled from the climb that, with a little help, everyone – disabled or able-bodied – is capable of quite extraordinary things.
Pritchard says the accident, which might have defeated many others, was “the best thing that ever happened to me”.
“It has fostered in me a vast pool of determination and patience. I was in a wheelchair for a year. I couldn’t talk, couldn’t feed myself or dress myself. It was as if I were a baby again. For 19 years I have been getting slowly better.”
While living with partial paralysis and a slow recovery has been difficult for the tenacious climber, Pritchard says that his life has been changed “boundlessly for the better” as a result. Now he lives in the moment, and is more appreciative of his surroundings without worrying about the future.
“Through the Totem Pole I now accept and let the future go without anticipation,” he says. “With this acceptance comes the courage to navigate the necessary stumbling stones of life.”
Another unexpected yet fortuitous outcome of his accident was that Pritchard married his nurse, with whom he now has two children.
Asked what audience should expect from his speech here in Adelaide, Pritchard says they “will be taken on a roller-coaster of an expedition which I call my life, and learn a few truths second hand, through my own hardships.”
Paul Pritchard: Beyond Doing it Scared
Tuesday, July 4