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Abrams To Climb Mount Kilimanjaro For Autism

Island Rock will host ‘Climb for a Cause’ for Spectrum Designs May 19

When Justin Abrams first visited Island Rock Indoor Rock Climbing in Plainview, it looked like his introduction to the sport was going to have to wait; it was 9 p.m., and the place was shut down tight. However, the 7-year-old from Dix Hills wasn’t in the mood to take no for an answer. He wanted to climb, and he wanted to climb now.

“As a little kid does, I ran up to the front door and started banging on the door, and the manager actually came out and saw that I was…literally in my pajamas,” remembered Abrams. Impressed by such enthusiasm, the manager put the pajama-clad Abrams in a harness and let the child climb, free of charge, all over the rock walls in the empty gym late into the night.

Now, 16 years later, Abrams is still climbing. In fact, he has set his sights on ascending one of the world’s most impressive peaks, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the tallest mountain in Africa and the largest free-standing mountain in the world. Presumably, he won’t be in his pajamas, but he will be raising money for Spectrum Design, a nonprofit enterprise located in Port Washington that employs people with autistic spectrum disorders to create custom-made decorated T-shirts and apparel.

For Abrams, who works in financial services when he’s not hitting the rocks, climbing is the ultimate sport. In addition to providing a challenging workout for the body and an engaging puzzle for the mind, it lends a satisfying sense of reality to the often metaphorical struggle to make it to the top: when Abrams stands at the top of a mountain, the feeling of achievement cannot be denied.

“The pain in your fingertips, the lactic buildup of every muscle in your body, and to accomplish something that is just the culmination of getting to the top…,” Abrams mused about his passion. “For me, it’s just the No. 1 sport I participate in.” Which is saying something for this athletic 23-year-old, since he also engages in whitewater canoeing, mountain biking and snowboarding.

Abrams was alerted to the possibility of climbing Kilimanjaro more or less by accident. Earlier this year, he was browsing an entertainment website when he came across an interesting headline: “High Resolution Atop Mount Kilimanjaro.” “My heart pounded, my eyes widened, the opportunity to continue onward and upward in pursuit of my passion was right there, one click away,” he said.

However, Abrams wanted to make his climb a memorable event for more than just one person. He soon started thinking about Spectrum Designs, a sub-organization of the Nicholas Center for Autism co-founded by one of his friends, Patrick Bardsley. In very little time, Abrams and a team at Spectrum had organized “Spectrum Climbs Kilimanjaro,” a fundraiser that has already raised $18,000 for the Spectrum Designs Foundation.

With approximately 1 in 88 children diagnosed with disorders on the autism spectrum, Abrams feels that autism is an issue that touches everyone. While no one in his immediate family is autistic, there are children with the disorder among his cousins and extended family.

“Autism effects everyone, in some way, shape or form,” said Abrams. “It really is just a very prevalent disorder in the community.” He hopes his Kilimanjaro trek will not only raise funds that will allow Spectrum to keep providing employment and valuable experience to autistic individuals, but will also raise awareness of the challenges faced by those with autism in general.

However, even for a consummate outdoorsman like Abrams, Kilimanjaro is no casual hike. Despite being one of the world’s most accessible high summits, requiring little equipment to climb successfully, the peak is still 19,336 feet above sea level. A journey that starts out in the forests of Northern Tanzania, near the town of Moshi, becomes increasingly desolate as the vegetation disappears. By the last leg of the climb, the African climate has given way to a world of ice and snow. Among other problems, many climbers succumb to altitude sickness when they try to ascend too quickly.

“It’s what’s called a non-technical climb. It’s definitely very, very difficult, but people really do underestimate it,” said Abrams, acknowledging the common problem with altitude sickness. However, the climber says he isn’t concerned about this particular risk. “It definitely does happen, but for me personally I have a lot of experience and a lot of control.”

In order to make sure he’s prepared for the climb, Abrams has started an aggressive training regiment, including lots of cardio exercise. He also climbs in the Adirondacks in upstate New York nearly every weekend. Perhaps most importantly, he spends time several days a week in a high-altitude simulation training compression chamber, courtesy of Hypoxico, a company that specializes in simulating high-altitude conditions for athletic training. The chamber provides oxygen-reduced air, allowing Abrams’ body to adjust to high-altitude conditions before he even boards the plane to Tanzania.

As Abrams prepares for his trip to Africa, which begins May 26, those interested in contributing to the project will have several opportunities to do so. The first will be this Saturday, April 28 at Lucille Roberts in Commack. For a cost of $10, everyone is welcome to come “Zumba for a Cure” from 11 to 2 p.m. at 6535 Jericho Turnpike, Commack.

The second opportunity will be in Plainview, where Abrams has his roots as a climber. “Climb For A Cause” on May 19 at Island Rock at 60 Skyline Drive in Plainview will feature a meet-and-greet with Abrams, (optional) climbing for anyone over the age of 6, refreshments and giveaways. The suggested donation is $25, and all funds will go to the Spectrum Designs Foundation. The event will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. For more information about these fundraisers, or to donate to Spectrum Climbs Kilimanjaro, visit http://spectrumclimbs.eventbrite.com/.

Furthermore, everyone is encouraged to help spread the word. “Even if you’re not in a position to donate, it’s totally understandable, but if you could just spread the word among your local community, family and friends,” said Abrams. Easy enough to do: “Did you hear about the guy who’s climbing Kilimanjaro?” makes for a good conversation starter.