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.
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.”