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President Honors Disabled Rock Climber

August 4, 1989 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush today told a paraplegic Park Service ranger that he had ″captured the imagination of the whole country″ by hauling himself up a 3,200-foot rock face in California’s Yosemite National Park.

Mark Wellman, 29, a naturalist for the Park Service, presented the president with the American flag that he and fellow climber Mike Corbett had carried in their pack to the top of El Capitan, one of Yosemite’s most famous features.

Bush praised the feat in an Oval Office meeting with the two. ″This is great,″ he said. ″You certainly captured the imagination of the whole country.″

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It took nine days for Wellman to haul himself, six inches at a time using only his powerful arms, to the summit of the majestic granite cliff. He and Corbett completed the climb July 26.

Wellman sat in his wheelchair wearing his Park Service uniform as he and Corbett met with the president and the Park Service Director Jim Ridenour and Jack Moorehead, associate director of operations for the Park Service.

Afterward, Wellman told reporters that during the brief meeting he and Bush discussed the outdoors and the president’s love of fishing.

What he didn’t have time to get into, he said, is his belief that the government should spend more money on access for the handicapped in national parks.

″We just need more attention brought to it,″ he said.

Wellman directs Yosemite’s program for the disabled, while Corbett works in the Yosemite medical clinic.

Their climb captured widespread media attention, including a news conference attended by some 55 reporters and rangers when they reached the summit.

Wellman, whose legs have been paralyzed since a 1982 fall from another Yosemite peak, became the first paraplegic to make the vertical trek, doing 7,000 pullups on ropes placed by Corbett.

Wellman chose a route that was almost straight up because it was more practical for him.

The route included tackling the Shield Roof, a ledge jutting 40 feet out from the monolith at 2,000 feet above Yosemite Valley. Wellman and Corbett had to dangle beneath it and hoist themselves up a rope with valley floor far below them.