North Vancouver native Leo Sammarelli has accomplished an incredible feat without the use of his feet, climbing the Grouse Grind entirely on his hands.
Sammarelli completed his epic climb on Monday, spending approximately six hours going up the 2,830 steps of the 2.9-kilometre climb, which has an elevation gain of 853 metres, on his hands and arms while a pair of helpers took turns holding his legs in a wheelbarrow position. He is believed to be the first person ever to complete the Grind entirely on his hands.
“It was definitely exhausting,” he said with a laugh, adding that the final third of the climb was where things got really tough. “It was a little bit narrow, and obviously the higher rock steps were really tough and challenging. … I was exhausted. There’s no other way to put it.”
Sammarelli was born and raised in North Vancouver and was an up-and-coming boxer when he was the victim of what police called a targeted shooting – the case remains unsolved – in North Vancouver in 2017. A bullet that pierced Sammarelli’s eighth vertebra left him a paraplegic, and he spent gruelling months recovering from his injuries and learning to function in a wheelchair.
In the years since the shooting, Sammarelli has become an advocate and driving force in Paralympic sport, raising funds and awareness for causes such as the Westcoast Wheelchair Adaptive Boxing Society and Inner Hope Youth Ministries, a charity that supports youth and families in East Vancouver.
“I believe myself that I am the product of the community,” he said. “I was shown a lot of support and love and care after I was injured in 2017. I couldn’t have gotten back on my feet without the support of my family and friends and the community.”
Sammarelli has also set out to tackle immense obstacles to show what a paraplegic athlete can do. Last year he completed the GranFondo race from Vancouver to Whistler using a hand cycle, and this year he decided to tackle the Grind – the famous climb has significant meaning for him as a North Vancouverite.
“I always did the Grind to prepare for a lot of my boxing fights,” he said. “It did mean a lot to me to complete this Grind.”
He’s hoping that his efforts will help others find motivation to tackle tough obstacles.
“I wanted to inspire not only people in wheelchairs, not only people with disabilities, but everyone,” he said, adding that the thought of climbing the Grind by hand seemed far-fetched until he actually went out and did it.
“It does sound like kind of an impossible thing to do, or a tough challenge, right? It was to inspire everyone. Anything is possible.”
Click here for Sammarelli’s GoFundMe page raising money for Westcoast Wheelchair Adaptive Boxing.