British Paraclimber Dave Bowes fights to be ready for Paraclimbing World Championships: “If I can’t climb, everything goes.”

2014 IFSC Para-Climbing Bouldering World Cup - LavalIn a series of blogs with Dave Bowes, a GB Team paraclimber sponsored by Birchall Blackburn Law, we follow his fight back to fitness after a shoulder injury and gain insight into how his Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) impacts on his aim to be ready for the Paraclimbing World Championships this September.

Dave suffered multiple brain injuries as a result of a road traffic accident in 2007, which left him with a neurological disability. He refused to let the injuries stop him from climbing. He has since become British Paraclimbing Champion, ranked second in Europe and fourth in the World, and even earned a place on the able bodied Ice Climbing GB Team.

His achievements are incredible when you know that his brain injuries left him with permanent symptoms of concussion, no sense of balance, a sleep disorder, over sensitive hearing, migraines, depression and a complete change of personality.


The Paraclimbing World Championships in September already looks out of reach just seven days after Dave’s operation to fix an Anterior Bankart Lesion (ABL) injury in his shoulder.

A symptom for many people with TBI is that there is no halfway point. It is all or nothing. Holding back can be a huge challenge and people with brain injuries can be impulsive and get carried away when things go well. After a fantastic start and a positive assessment by his Sports Injury Therapist, Phil MacDonald, Dave did just that. He pushed his repaired shoulder too far, too quickly. For the first time since the operation he felt pain in his shoulder that suggested the Championships in Paris was not going to happen for him.

On day eight, the day after he overworked his repaired shoulder, Dave tried to do his morning routine of stretches and exercises but felt twinges and pain at certain angles. Something he had not felt since the successful operation. For the next four days, Dave stopped all rehabilitation work and put his arm back in a sling. For the first time since the operation, he resorted to pain killers to reduce any swelling.

Dave BowesDave says: “All that time and effort wasted, just because of something as simple as doing one exercise too many. It was scary. Imagine going through the operation knowing you had limited time to recover to make the Championships in September. You thought you were three weeks ahead of schedule and then to blow it all away. I felt like I had taken one step forward and two steps back. Even worse, had I completely wrecked the repair in my shoulder? Those few days were the hardest so far and depression was something that was a daily battle.”

Dave’s TBI means that the stakes are much higher than failing to get to the Championships in France. It is not as simple as starting again with another operation, rehabilitation and try for the Championships next year.

“The setback could cost me a lot,” says Dave. “The psychological impact of not making September would of course be devastating. I would have failed myself, my sponsors and Headway; the head injury charity I support and promote through climbing.

“But my main concern is the fact that climbing allows me to keep my body and mind in check. It allows me to have some control of my neurological symptoms. If I can’t climb, I can’t strengthen my core. If can’t strengthen my core, I can’t walk in a straight line. It would all fall apart. I would have to work harder to keep my balance by focusing on visual points. This would wear down my brain and I’d get tired quicker and suffer from more migraines. It could throw-out my medication levels and depression would be a constant battle.  If I can’t climb, everything goes.”dave_rehab_week 1

On the thirteenth day, Dave tried some basic movement exercises to test the shoulder. To his surprise and utter relief the shoulder felt good. Three rest days had worked wonders. He progressed carefully to some more challenging exercises and the shoulder felt great. Through a process of analysis and elimination he identified the exercise of ‘bear crawls’ that had put too much strain on his shoulder.

Dave said: “It was identified by Phil that these were in fact more advanced moves and should be a target to reach for with gradual build up. But due to my TBI I didn’t think of the consequences, I was reckless and I thought that I would be able to push through and complete the more advanced exercises prematurely. It is a mistake that will not be repeated on my journey to Paris.”


If you want to read more about Dave’s journey back to the World Championships, from a climber’s physical point of view, then we recommend checking out Allcord’s blog HERE…  

You can follow Dave’s progress through his Twitter @bowesdave and Instagram ‘bowesdave’.

Keep watching our @BBalwaysthere Twitter feed to catch the next blog from Dave and what happened to his shoulder after pushing himself too far…