Whanganui climber Rachel Māia will compete in the paraclimbing world championships in France just months after having part of her leg amputated.
Maia has had the full use of only one leg after shattering an ankle in a climbing accident as a teenager which led to degenerative and post-traumatic arthritis. She made the decision to have her lower left leg amputated rather than facing years of ongoing surgery to try to save her foot.
Life has been busy for Māia since the amputation in February, with rehabilitation, travelling to the limb centre in Hamilton every week to get her prosthetic leg made and spending time with her three children, as well as training for climbing.
Three months after the amputation, Māia competed at the climbing nationals in May, creating "a little piece of New Zealand history" as the first female amputee athlete to take part.
"I hope it shows what's possible and encourages others to give it a go," Māia said.
Now Māia is preparing to go to the paraclimbing world championships to be held in France on July 16-17.
"I accept that I'm not going to go there as strong and fit as I'd like to be but I've done enough to keep up with the competition," she said.
"I'm going in with every intention of aiming for the highest possible placing I can get. Whatever happens, I can be incredibly proud. The day of the competition will be a fraction short of five months from my surgery."
Māia is taking a support person to the world championships to assist her as she adjusts to her new prosthetic leg.
"When it fits like a glove I can wear it for short periods, a couple of hours every few days, relying on crutches or a wheelchair otherwise," she said.
However, swelling in the residual part of her leg means the prosthetic can become uncomfortable. When filler material made the prosthetic too tight, Māia decided to attempt some modifications herself, taking to it with a kitchen knife and using duct tape for repairs.
However, it quickly became clear that the duct tape wouldn't cut it in the heat in France and Māia sent the leg to Hamilton for the filler to be professionally removed.
"I went into the courier, took my leg off and put it on the counter and said 'how much to courier this to Hamilton?'. The woman at the counter didn't even blink and said 'it used to be $18 but now it's $20'. Perhaps I'm not the only one to post a leg?"
Māia received the prosthetic back a week before she is due to leave for the world championships.
That trip is coming a month earlier than expected. The para and able-bodied championships are usually a combined event and were due to be held in Japan in August but an error in booking the venue meant the para section was moved to France.
"It means I've lost a whole month of recovery and rehabilitation which has been terrifying," Māia said.
"The adaptive community is incredibly thankful to France for filling that void and hosting us."
Māia has been nominated as the female athlete representative on the new World Paraclimbing Committee to work with athletes and the international federation.
"We're a growing sport and we are going through growing pains," Māia said.
"The committee will work to bring clarity and cohesiveness to the sport."
Athletes at the world championships will vote on who will represent them on the committee.
Fundraising support had taken some pressure off the trip to the world championships, Māia said.
"Sport climbing in New Zealand is unfunded. We are a minority sport and we pay all our own training and travel expenses right down to our fabulous uniform."
Her supporters include Christchurch woman Natia Wichman who runs clothing line Badass Apparel. Māia and Wichman have never met and only know each other through social media but Wichman is selling T-shirts with wording based around Māia's name which means brave or bold, with $20 from each item sold going to Māia's Givealittle page for the world champs.
"Staying positive and mental preparation has been key. I'm going to be the best self I can be in that moment. The focus is my best is enough - I can't be anything more."
Māia says it's been important since the surgery for her and the kids to express how they are feeling and to spend time together.
"We make time to sit and breathe and practice mindfulness," she said.
Son Max, 11, says it's been "fascinating" to see the changes in his mum since her amputation.
"Today you quite literally walked down the stairs [at a cafe] very casually - that was quite different," he said.
Māia says she doesn't want people to think she's "some super-human that doesn't struggle".
"It's normal to cry in the shower and have sleepless nights or tightness in the chest from anxiety. That's as much a part of the journey as success. Anyone can set a goal and got out and achieve it and then set another one.
"I'm like everyone else. I have my off days. It's important to have that acceptance of self where you can be okay with not being okay for a day and that you know who your support people are and who is going to help you get through those rough days."
Māia is now getting some work on the celebrity speaking circuit and is looking forward to speaking at the University of Canterbury Blues Awards when she returns from France.
"It's really exciting to have opportunities to share my journey. I always wanted my climbing to be about something bigger.
"We all have to deal with other people's negativity at different points in our life. I've dealt with some self-esteem challenges too. I'll take every opportunity I can to talk about how limitless we all are. Only we can choose who we want to become.
"Having the strength to ask for help is key. I didn't get through an amputation on my own."
A podium finish at the world climbing championships in Russia in 2021 is Māia's long-term goal.
"The experience I'll get at the world championships this year will be crucial. Russia in 2021 is where I want my medal.
"Climbing isn't a Paralympics sport yet but I hope by getting involved I will help pave the way for New Zealand to put athletes in the Paralympics when that happens."