Leather and Lace: A Comeback Story

If you've ever been to, or even paid attention to, the 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell event held in Arkansas at the beginning of Autumn, then you've no doubt heard of Leather and Lace.

They are a husband and wife team, Dick Dower and Natalie Neal Dower, from Las Vegas, whose dominance in the event is well documented.  Over the years at the 24HHH, they've combined to climb 1,734 routes.  Last year alone they each sent 152 routes in 24 hours to combine for an impressive 304 routes.

It's safe to say that, several times over, Dick Dower has climbed more routes in 24 hours than you have in an entire season. And he's in his 60's.

Photo from Natalie Neal Dower

But that doesn't stop mistakes from happening.  Last November, in a classic "that could never happen to me" moment, Dick had a lapse in concentration that anyone could easily have.  He had been working out on the autobelays at his gym, and while resting for one last burn on a project, he unclipped.  Because during his workouts he usually doesn't unclip, he neglected to clip back in for that final burn.  The crux was at the top, and he fell off again.

As he says, "I couldn't hold the pinch, so my hand came off before my right foot, thus I fell horizontally, thankfully."

Dick titled his Facebook post about the accident "A Cautionary Tale."  With the heavy news that Dean Potter and a partner died over the weekend in a Yosemite wingsuiting accident, every cautionary tale is welcome.  We can all learn lessons from the mistakes, but that isn't at all what this post is about.  

This post is about a comeback. 

You don't build up to being able to do 152 pitches in 24 hours by giving up.  And when you're 65, it either means you're driven, determined, dedicated, or just plain stubborn.  Evidenced by his constant posts about his progress, I imagine Dick is all of those things.

Photo by Josh Beecher at Halcyon Daze Productions.

In the midst of rehabbing my injured shoulder, I've received a few encouraging messages from Dick, who is undergoing his own, much more extensive, rehab.  For any of us, it's easy to get bogged down in our own sob stories and feel sorry for ourselves.  While I'm sure Dick has those moments, he doesn't show it.  I admire that type of strength, and I admire the strength that Natalie has shown through the whole ordeal.  I barely know these two, having just met them briefly at last year's event, but it isn't hard to see why the community rallies around them.  

Last week Dick posted his 6 Month Update to Facebook.  Despite the severe nerve pain that still occasionally shoots through his hands and forearms, he's now done five 5.8's outside and a couple of 5.9's in the gym, all on toprope.  Dick says that the more he works to climb, the more he pays for it with pain that evening.  Regardless, he's shooting to be able to lead 5.7 by 24HHH in September. 

In his update was included this inspiring video that shows not only his current progress, but where he was prior to the accident as well.


The video shows where I was and where I am now. Funny thing is that now I can project 5.8 but my scrambling skills are...
Posted by Dick Dower on Saturday, May 16, 2015

I made a silly assumption that Dick may not be climbing in the 24HHH event this September, but he quickly corrected me.  "Leather and Lace" will be there, and even though he may only be climbing 5.7, "Leather" will most certainly be getting his pitches in.  

I'll leave you with Dick's words from his 6 Month Update on Facebook:

"I am in the unusual position of working very hard to achieve what is considered to be a very mediocre level of climbing.  But, the motivation is not the actual grade I may achieve but that it is now my new personal level to strive for, regardless of the grade attached.  Don't forget the Bob Dylan line:  "He not busy being born is busy dyin'."  I'm not dyin'."


See you in Arkansas, Dick.

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