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Scaling new heights: an unstoppable pursuit of passion

Updated: Apr 5

Resilience meets dedication in a triumphant return to the climbing wall. 

By Milan Rafaelov, Editor-in-Chief


Seventeen-year-old Jacob Rosenquist opened his eyes to gaze up at the 100-foot waterfall towering over him, he lay bleeding in a shallow pool of water with a broken sternum, bruised lungs, and unable to feel his legs. To his left, he spotted the gear he and his friends left behind at the bottom of the hike and could not help but wonder, ‘How did I get all the way down here’? 


“I didn’t see them (his hiking friends,) at first I thought I had died or something because my memory went completely blank,” Rosenquist said.


18 year old Jacob Rosenquist poses for a photo in front of the Community Service Center's rock wall at Valley College on March 05. (Lluvia Marinero Arevalo for the Valley Star).

The high schooler grappled with the sensation of having narrowly escaped death after a hiking accident in the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park left him paralyzed from the waist down.


Before his accident, Jacob Rosenquist worked at Valley’s climbing gym as a youth rock climbing instructor while taking on some college courses as a high school student. After having two rods surgically placed to stabilize his spine, the rising senior embarked on a difficult six-month journey of rehabilitation. Once he had healed and began to adapt to life in a wheelchair, Jacob transitioned to attending  high school fully online. Despite the challenges brought by his paraplegia, the determined young climbing instructor was eager to return to Valley and resume his work. 


Rosenquist positions himself to begin rock climbing eight months after being paralyzed from the waist down. Photo taken at the Community Service Center in Los Angeles Valley College where he prepares to start working again. March 05. (Lluvia Marinero Arevalo for the Valley Star).

“When I was in rehab, I felt like I needed to find a way to start getting back into it, and needed to find people like me that still climb,” said Rosenquist. “All the guys at my work were trying to figure out the best equipment and system for me to come back, and asked when was the soonest I could start again, all of that was really helpful.” 


Before his injuries, Jacob had aspirations of a career involving travel or hands-on work, but since his life took an unexpected turn, he’s wrestled with finding a vocational path that worked for him. While uncertain about his future profession, he is certain about the destination ahead.


“I really want a family,” said Rosenquist. "I wanna get married and have a family, and I definitely wanna have kids. I just love people, I want to always be surrounded by people I like and care about.” 


Throughout his rehabilitation, Jake's family posted updates about his recovery and meticulously documented each visit where their youngest son would radiate positivity, despite recovering from the accident that nearly claimed his life. The support of his friends, family and community buoyed his spirits and helped maintain his optimistic outlook throughout his convalescence. He warmly recalled the compassionate care provided by the nurses and rehab volunteers whose efforts contributed to his comfort and recovery. 


“All of the nurses have been so nice, and the food has been really good,” wrote Jake in an Instagram post. “The pain has gone way down since last week. We are supposed to be transferred to a hospital back in LA today. Thank you so much for all of the visitors and everyone's nice messages. Please keep praying for a miracle for my legs!” 


Throughout his rehabilitation, Jake dedicated himself to researching climbers who faced similar challenges, even reaching out to some for guidance. Besides his deep affection for people, his passion for climbing remains unrivaled. 


“Six months ago today, Jake had surgery on his back,” wrote his aunt, Rachel Ward, in a Caring Bridge post. Today is a very special day, not only does Jake turn 18 he finally gets to climb again. Since being home, he has adjusted quite well.” 


Now, following Rosenquist’s successful completion of physical rehabilitation, he has embarked on a new endeavor: competing in para-climbing tournaments with the aspiration of one day participation in the IFSC Para-climbing World Championship. The para-climbing movement gained traction in the late 2000’s, culminating in the inaugural world championship in 2011, and has since evolved into a vibrant and esteemed community of climbers. 


Photo taken by Lluvia Marinero Arevalo for the Valley Star.

“I was going easy at first with climbing to make sure my back was doing okay,” said Jake. “But I want to start training, pull-ups and finger strength, things like that to eventually be able to compete, maybe by next year. I'm very competitive, I love that kind of thing, something to strive and train for.”


Juggling online high school classes alongside in-person college courses at Valley, Jacob Rosenquist commits himself to his training as he strives to achieve his goal of becoming a competitive rock climber. Supported steadfastly by his family and friends, and supplemented by his side gig of streaming Fortnite on Twitch, Jacob faces each challenge with deep resilience and an appreciation for life. 


“It's all I could think about every day when I was in rehab, and I fell in love with it,” Jacob said about rock climbing. “Even though it's not the same, it's just my favorite thing.” 




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