An assignment for her college newspaper introduced Arnold native Alison Osius to the rock climbers of Vermont.
"I was so interested intheir stories and their character, their sense of irony and humor and their complete lack of self-aggrandizement," she recalls. "They were not impressed with themselves, yet they told these great adventure stories."
Fifteen years later, Osius is a champion rock climber and a senior editor at Climbing magazine. And she's telling -- and selling -- a true-life adventure story, a biography of a New England cliff climberwho lost his lower legs but still managed to reach the top of his sport.
Osius was in town last week for a family Thanksgiving and to sign copies of her new book, "Second Ascent: The Story of Hugh Herr" ($19.95, Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, Pa.)
Friday at Charing CrossBooks & Cards and at the B. Dalton Bookseller in Annapolis, she signed copies of her books. Elsa Barnes was typical of the customers who showed to meet the author -- Osius described her as a "few-times-removed cousin."
"I haven't climbed for about eight years," Barnes said, "so it'll be fun to read."
"Second Ascent" describes the life of a former "boy wonder" of rock climbing who, considered among the best of the world, got lost on New Hampshire's Mount Washington and, at17, lost his lower legs to frostbite.
In the book, Osius writes: "Hugh's accident had brought him down; now he was bringing himself back up. It was like making the second ascent of a difficult route, working hard for it, being thrilled by it, knowing it was possible. There was a difference, though. Usually a second ascent is easier than the first, precisely because the climber knows the route is possible, as someone has been there before. But in this case no one had ever climbed Hugh's route."
The photographs tell part of the story, showing how Herr regained his championship climbing form with shafts of lightweight metal for lower legs. The text tells the rest, describing how Herr, now 26, has gone on to design parts for artificial limbs.
Osius met Herr in 1983. His story became the subject of her graduate thesis at the Columbia School of Journalism.
"I was moved by his situation," Osius said Friday at B. Dalton's. "I felt like I did the first time I went climbing. The first time I went climbing, I ran homeand wrote a letter to my parents about it."
Her first climb came on the heels of that college newspaper assignment. Osius, 33, is now a member of the U.S. Climbing Team and has climbed worldwide. She wonthe 1989 North American Continental Championships in Boulder, Col., and another title, with her mother watching her compete for the firsttime, in July in Chicago.
She said she tore a muscle in her forearm while climbing recently in Texas, an injury that will sideline herfor six weeks and force her to miss a competition in Birmingham, England.
Osius has lived in Carbondale, Col., for three years, since taking the editing job at Climbing, a magazine with a circulation of 30,000.
She said her book has sold about 4,500 copies, mostly in outdoors shops, since it was released in September. The book's publisher is looking to sell 20,000 copies, she said.
Osius said the bookis written for the general reader, adding: "I think (Herr) can be a role model for people all over the world. Not just for people who have suffered illness of debilitating accidents, but people who have fought adversity."