CoachArt and Climbing at Great Western Power Company

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“They were telling us everything they were going to do to Ella. Your whole life is turned upside down. You know, and it’s your kid so it’s not like, ‘Oh she’s lived a good life,’ No it’s like, ‘Oh she needs to have a life.’” – Gene Wade, Ella’s father.

Cancer is terrible.

There’s something you already knew. In fact, chances are that you or someone you know has been affected by cancer.

I know I have.

But this story isn’t about me, and luckily, this story has a happy ending.

Outreach at Great Western Power CompanyElla Wade was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of five. She battled through doses of chemotherapy—a poison used as a medicine—in an attempt to cure Ella’s heinous disease, leukemia.

Some kids are lucky enough to be ignorant; others deal with very adult problems. Ella, unfortunately, was one of those other kids.

Ella would go to the hospital, where she’d be poked and prodded by needles, then attempt to be a kid, while treatments of chemotherapy would make Ella too weak to get off the couch.

How’s a kid supposed to be a kid when battling so much?

Outreach at Great Western Power Company

About six months into being diagnosed, Ella’s parents looked for options trying to answer this very difficult question.

They found an answer with Coachart, a non-profit organization that offers free lessons of art and athletics to chronically ill patients of the ages 6-18.

CoachArt was founded in 2000 by Zander Lurie and Leah Bernthal, and became a non-profit in 2001. In 2002 Coachart started a program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles—where they’d work with kids, not on their physical health, but instead helping children with their mental health—by using games, art, and sports they helped children beat their illnesses, by having fun.

Outreach at Great Western Power Company

In 2011 Coachart’s philosophy was brought to the Bay Area, and this program helped Ella immensely,

CoachArt took Ella climbing for her first time at Great Western Power Company, where the 45-foot walls stood no chance against the 3-foot Ella.

According to a number of unreliable sources, “Ella could be seen dynoing from hold to hold up GWPC’s hardest 5.13’s,” …..This probably isn’t true, but what is true was Ella’s fearless approach to a climb. Unlike other kids her age, she never even hesitated about the height of the wall.

Climbing came naturally to her. The wall was this big ominous thing that she had to take on, grabbing each hold as they came, while always keeping the goal of getting to the top in mind.

Outreach at Great Western Power Company

Cancer was the same for Ella.

She wouldn’t fall off the wall, she had to reach the top.

Ella has a gaze that makes you stutter a bit, take a moment to breathe, and understand the presence that’s looking at you. Her posture, her elegant way of speaking, and her controlling manner all point to one characteristic: Confidence. You can feel it just by standing next to her.

Climbing has played an important role in this development. The tall walls acted as a metaphor for her, having to take on something bigger than herself, conquering something gargantuan in stature, but still defeating the very real task set in front of her.

Outreach at Great Western Power Company

Ella is now nine years old, and as of today, she’s cancer free.

“Do you want to climb all the way up there?”

“Of course, I just beat cancer.”

By Marcel Scott