Paraclimber Rachel Māia is aiming to bring home a medal for New Zealand at the climbing world championships in France, just a few months after having a below the knee amputation of her left leg.

Māia shattered her ankle in a climbing accident as a teenager, which led to degenerative and post-traumatic arthritis.

It forced her out of the sport for nearly two decades, until she started climbing again and competed at the IFSC championships in Austria in September 2018, where she finished fourth in the world in her paraclimbing division.

That accomplishment, however, was accompanied by a realisation that an amputation was something she needed to seriously consider.


"It became obvious in a bigger place that I had lost a lot of mobility," Māia told the Whanganui Cronicle in March. "I've been very sheltered in Whanganui where I can park in a mobility park then get back in the car and go down the road to another mobility park.

"In Austria I was in a wheelchair and needed a lot of assistance. It showed how far my climbing can take me but I felt very held back. I realised how beautiful the world is and how much there is to see and how much I want to see it."

The 35-year-old had to weigh up whether she wanted to have an amputation or spend another 20 years trying to save her foot with ongoing surgery. She made the difficult decision that she wanted the amputation.

"It was a big decision," she said.

"This isn't a sudden traumatic experience, it's something I've thought through and planned. I have the most beautiful adaptive family all over the world. Many of them have been through this. I got lots of information and advice from them."

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Hands up if you’ve had trouble loving yourself? Here’s my wee reminder to you all, disability or no disability.... love yourself exactly as you are. With a growth mindset of course, but love your imperfectly perfect self and be kind to yourself! 💙 . 6 weeks post amputation now and honestly it’s been brutal. I’ve had some hellish days feeling low. But I’ve been reminding myself that’s ok, in fact it’s pretty bloody normal and we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have those moments. . . That’s hard for me to remember. Really hard. The post man banged on my door 5 times on the weekend and I could not get there fast enough. I yelled at him. And I was so bummed afterward. I’ve never yelled at a stranger like that before and it hit me hard just how brutal this process has been. I’m 100% certain I’m not the only one who struggles to be kind to themselves in the midst of the lows and your own imperfections. For whatever reason... and it might not be disability... we ALL hit the wall sometimes. Right? It’s something I’m working on, self acceptance of wherever I’m at, knowing that I will ALWAYS get back up soon enough. And I will ALWAYS push back to be a better version of myself. If that’s where you’re at right now... you got this! You absolutely do. Kia Māia. ❤️ . . 📸 @thecultureofgrace . . #disability #disabilityawareness #limblossawareness #surgery #recovery #rehab #brutal #struggle #thestruggleisreal #push #fight #strength #selflove #motivation #getbackup #keepon #perseverance #amputation #girlpower #goals #low #love #yourself #whanganui #wahine #manawahine #itsbettertogether #wellbeing #paraathlete #mumlife

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Māia is now focusing on the nationals later this month and the world championships in France.

"I was the first New Zealand climber to reach a world championship finals. Full respect to the able-bodied climbers - para climbing is completely different. But it would be really exciting to see a New Zealand medal and I would love to be the person to bring home that first one for our country."

She says the sport of climbing has helped her become herself again.


"All adaptive sports are groups that help people with disabilities find themselves again. They find a place for us in a world we are struggling to connect with on a physical level. The value we get out of our craft is hard to put into words.

"Often our sport has helped us accept, love ourselves as we are. It was climbing that helped me accept myself, become me again."

Read NZME's full interview with Rachel Māia in March