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Senior Madison Moore received an out­pouring of love from the campus com­munity after her accident. Madison Moore | Courtesy

When Madison Moore decided to rest in her harness while climbing the rock wall after dinner on March 15, she could not have known she was seconds away from a life-changing accident. There was no reason to suspect any­thing was wrong. Moore had climbed the wall once a week all semester to build upper body strength. She never had any issues.

So she rested.

Climbers are held in the air by a pulley system. The climber wears a harness, which is con­nected via a cara­biner to a rope. The rope runs over the pulley and con­nects the climber to a person on the ground, known as a belayer. The weight of the belayer keeps the climber sus­pended in the air. This ensures that if a climber loses his or her grip on the wall or wants to rest, the climber cannot fall rapidly.  

That is how the system is sup­posed to work.

While Moore was resting her arms, she was dependent on the pulley to keep her up. As she relaxed her grip on the wall, the safety knot slipped, dropping Moore. She grasped for the escaping rope, but it shot to the ceiling.

She fell.

When she landed 20 feet below, Moore frac­tured both her right femur and humerus. The femur injury occurred upon impact with the floor, but the doctors at Cold­water Regional Hos­pital spec­u­lated that the force of Moore’s head striking her upper arm frac­tured her humerus.

“I just saw a flash of white,” Moore said. “I could see that my leg was not lined up when I looked down at my leg, so I knew my femur was broken.”

An ambu­lance took Moore to Hillsdale Hos­pital, where she was taken to the emer­gency room. Rebekah Dell, the asso­ciate dean of women, went to the hos­pital and waited in the emer­gency room with Moore until she was trans­ferred to Cold­water Regional Hos­pital.

“As with any student, any time I know they are injured and hurting, it is like they are a sibling of mine,” Dell said. “You guys are more than just stu­dents to us, you are people that we care about as human beings.”

Moore would remain in Cold­water Regional Hos­pital for the next six days while sur­geons placed titanium rods and screws in her leg and arm to sta­bilize and support her bones as they heal.

Because Moore was not inde­pen­dently mobile after the accident, she had to change housing. An effort was made to accom­modate her on campus, but the available wheel­chair acces­sible rooms are designed for one person, and Moore needed the assis­tance of someone living with her.

In the end, Moore’s injury forced her move off campus during her final semester of college. She moved back to her family’s home in Adrian, Michigan, about 45 minutes away from campus.

Moore’s physical dis­tance from campus, however, did not damper the support she received after the accident. Provost David Whalen, whom Moore first met on the Land and Lit­er­ature of England trip before her freshman year, drove to her house and per­sonally delivered her flowers.

Support came upon Moore in a deluge from members of the Pi Beta Phi sorority, some of whom grad­uated as early as the 1970s.

“It’s easy for me to feel iso­lated from campus and plucked out of the life I was leading prior to the accident,” Moore said. “Having friends — both old and new — offering me so much support heartens me more than any­thing.”

Moore will cer­tainly draw upon that support as she ten­ta­tively begins her recovery and com­pletes her degree. Moore has begun lim­iting her use of pain med­ication in an effort to tran­sition to only Tylenol and has began doing small exer­cises in her home to improve the range of motion in her injured arm and leg. Moore said she does not expect to be able to walk easily until the end of June.

The climbing wall staff has begun its own period of adjustment after the accident.Bradley Kocher, the director of recre­ational sports and ath­letic facil­ities, said in an email the cause of the fall was not equipment failure and the staff training has not changed for clipping in a climber.

“We have rein­forced the impor­tance of these pro­ce­dures to safe­guard climbers on our wall and con­tinue to offer a fun and exciting expe­rience at the Hillsdale College climbing wall,” Kocher said.

Sophomore Phil Bernston, the person belaying Moore at the time of the accident, has not worked since she fell. He said he plans to begin working at the rock wall again in the fall.

“For me, it is going to be impos­sible not to be extremely attentive to clip-ins now,” Bernston said. “I am going to come back to the wall with a whole new men­tality.”

Spring con­vo­cation is one of the last sig­nif­icant events during a student’s time at Hillsdale. It is is the first time the seniors attend a cer­emony in their grad­u­ation regalia, and also when the schol­arship cup is awarded to the greek orga­ni­za­tions with the highest GPAs.

“I find the tra­dition of con­vo­cation to be a valuable reminder to the grad­u­ating class that they will be leaving an insti­tution that has done so much to change us,” Moore said. “There was no way I was going to miss taking the oppor­tunity to reflect on my college years simply for a broken femur and humerus.”

Moore was able to return to campus for con­vo­cation, where she saw Pi Beta Phi win the schol­arship cup.

“I had been receiving the love and support of my sisters from a dis­tance up to that point,” Moore said. “It was over­whelming being rolled up to take a photo with my fellow seniors and the schol­arship cup with the rest of the house cheering me on.”

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    You can get hurt rock climbing on this appa­ratus, that’s why the floor around them should be padded. I’m 63 and, after a couple of beers at my Church fes­tival a year back I decided to show everyone I still ‘had it’ since I was a gymnast in HS many moons ago. I went up the rock climb tower-in this case, nobody was holding the other end of the support line, it had a plumb-weight on the inside of the toward and over a pulley at the top. Sup­posed to be good for a climbers weight up to 220 pounds, so I was pushing it at 205. I went up easy enough, still have my upper body strength from the still rings and par­allel bars of 45 years ago. But, at 20 feet you are really up there if you lose your grip. For­tu­nately, I didn’t and got down OK-but I can easily see someone falling and getting hurt. The pulley and coun­ter­weight are sup­posed to slow your fall, but you can’t rely on them. They need padded floors, a spotter who knows what he/she is doing and a helmet in case your head goes down first. Too many of these rock climbs are unat­tended or poorly attended.