Outdoor Adaptive Sports Programs: Where To Find The Nation’s Best

adaptive skiingLike most of us, I didn’t fully realize the extent of the daily hassles and challenges faced by those who use a wheelchair, prosthetic, or other mobility aid until it became somewhat personal. I’m fortunate to have two people in my life who’ve been an enormous source of both education and inspiration, and I’m writing this piece because of them. A little bit of background is in order:

When I moved to Vail in 1995 to attend culinary school, I became friends with Darol Kubacz, a young Forest Service employee. Darol had broken his back in a motorcycle accident about 18 months prior; at the time of his injury, he was in the Army, working in Special Ops. He was already an experienced outdoorsman who enjoyed scuba diving, climbing, and hiking. Despite the physical challenges and fairly recent onset of his paralysis, he made a huge impression on me with his positive, non-defeatist attitude.

Darol’s job with the Forest Service entailed trail assessment for the handicapped, while in his personal life he’d already undertaken a number of adaptive sports, including the aforementioned activities he’d enjoyed prior to his injury. He’d also started alpine skiing (he broke his neck in a skiing accident in 2000, but fortunately sustained no additional physical or neurological damage).

Darol became my workout buddy, and he was the first friend I’d ever had who was in a chair. Through him, I learned a lot about what it means to live with a limitation. Mainly, he impressed upon me that, to a certain extent, it’s possible for humans to overcome physical limitations. I’m surprised he doesn’t have, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” carved into his chest.arm bikeToday, Darol works as a part-time adaptive hiking guide in Phoenix (he and his clients use off-road arm bikes),and is working on launching an adaptive paragliding program. He’s climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro –twice, summiting once– entirely under his own power, to raise awareness for his foundation, Freedom for Life. Following his ski accident, he has, he says, “Learned to embrace a more intimate experience with nature, that’s less about speed and adrenalin, and more about being in the moment.” Hence his passion for off-road bikes.

I met my friend Tony 12 years, ago, when I was living in Berkeley and working as a farmers market vendor. A loyal customer, Tony is also a documentary filmmaker and graphic designer. He’s quadriplegic, the result of a teenage diving accident. Tony has partial use of his arms, and until his accident, was a competitive surfer. Until a few years ago, however, he’d never been able to get back on a board due to some medical issues he was dealing with.

Today, a freakishly youthful 48, Tony is an avid surfer and skier (that’s him at Alpine Meadows, in the photo at the beginning of this story), thanks to several amazing adaptive sport programs. He says he’s in the best shape of his life, and his jones for salt water and snow matches that of any able-bodied enthusiast.

Living in the outdoor adventure mecca of Boulder as I do, I’m also in an epicenter of outdoor adaptive recreation programs. With my locale and both of these inspiring and incredible guys in mind, I wanted to provide a round-up of top adaptive sport centers across the country.
wake boarding
Adaptive Adventures
Based in Boulder, this is Darol’s preferred ski and summer program; he also co-produces a summer Moab Mania event for them. They offer alpine skiing, snowboarding, waterskiing, wake-boarding, kayaking, rafting, and cycling. Offers civilian, veterans, and kids programs.

Telluride Adaptive Sports Program
Darol and I both recommend this program (me, from living in Telluride and knowing some of the staff). TASP is very well-regarded, and offers summer and winter programs. This time of year there’s alpine, nordic, and backcountry skiing and snowboarding, snow shoeing, ice-climbing, Helitrax skiing, and snowmobiling. In summer, there’s horseback riding, hiking, biking, fishing, climbing, paddling, and camping.

Challenge Aspen
This prestigious adaptive ski and snowboard program based in Snowmass is for civilians with physical or cognitive disabilities. Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities (C.A.M.O.) is for injured military; a new camp this year has been developed to help adaptive skiers learn more about competitive Paralympic training programs and interface with Paralymic coaches.
adaptive kayaking
High Fives Foundation
Tony is a huge fan of this Truckee, California, based non-profit founded by paralyzed former competitive skier Roy Tuscany. It’s dedicated to raising awareness and funding for “injured athletes that have suffered a life-altering injury while pursuing their dream in the winter action sports community.” High Fives also serves as a resource center for alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage, and pilates, gyms, and adaptive sports and equipment.

WORLD T.E.A.M. Sports
Chartered in North Carolina and based in New York, Darol recommends this athletic organization that offers adaptive and able-bodied events in mountain biking, rafting, cycling, and more. They also offer teen challenges.

They Will Surf Again
Tony has hit the waves with this Los Angeles-based program offered by the non-profit, Life Rolls On (LRO). Founded by quadriplegic, former competitive surfer Jesse Billauer, LRO raises awareness and funds for spinal cord injury (SCI) research, and offers bi-coastal adaptive surfing, skate, and snowboarding programs.

AccesSurf Hawaii
Honolulu-based adaptive surfing and other recreational water sport programs.
adaptive climbing
Wheels 2 Water
Tony recommends this adaptive surf and scuba diving non-profit in his hometown of Huntington Beach, California.

Wheels Up Pilots
This research and instructional paragliding program in Santa Barbara is highly recommended by Darol, who is about to become one of the first two U.S.-certified adaptive paragliding pilots. Open to civilians and veterans.

Freedom for Life Off-road Arm Biking
For guided hikes in the Phoenix area, contact Darol Kubacz, darol@fflfoundation.org.

[Photo credits: adaptive skier, Tony Schmiesing; all others, Adaptive Adventures]

Abusing Wheelchair Privileges To Cheat The Airport Security Line

A few weeks ago, we told you about TSA screeners who abused their role in the security screening process to steal from passengers.

Now, we’ll highlight an instance where passengers are (seemingly) gaming the system. A recent New York Times article discusses a rise in able-bodied passengers requesting wheelchairs and speculates that they may be exploiting assistance reserved for disabled guests to speed through security or to enjoy the privilege of being the first to board an airplane.

Although no hard data is available to prove that this phenomenon is actually on the rise, the article uses anecdotal evidence – such as passengers who can lift heavy luggage after going through security or those who use a chair to board the plane (where they claim the perk of being on first) but not to exit the aircraft (where they’ll leave last).

The wheelchair pushers don’t seem to mind, either. Most earn the majority of their income from tips, and when business is up, so is pay.

Others aren’t so happy. Peter Greenberg, the Travel Editor for CBS News, was quoted in the article as saying that this technique may backfire. “I’m a big believer in karma,” he said. “You don’t put on a dress when the Titanic is going down so you can get in the first lifeboat.”

Just like those who use handicapped tags to park in spaces not designated for them, we’re inclined to agree, but we’d like to hear from readers.

What do you think? Is there abuse in the system or are passengers simply more inclined now to exercise their right to a wheelchair?

[Flickr via Peter Kaminski]

Delta airlines puts elderly woman on wrong flight due to boarding pass mix-up

Delta elderly womanIn a Top 10 of phone calls you probably don’t want to receive from an airport official: “Your grandmother was found in baggage claim.”

Eighty-year-old Nefissa Yesuf’s Sunday Atlanta to Dulles flight didn’t go quite as planned. CNN reports that airline and airport staff failed to notice that a Delta employee had allegedly given her someone else’s boarding pass by mistake. Yesuf, who is from Ethiopia and doesn’t speak English, instead ending up landing in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Yusef’s granddaughter, Melika Adem, says she received a call from the airport telling her Yusef had been found in baggage claim, crying. According to Adem, Delta gave her grandmother someone else’s ticket, and an airline employee then wheeled her through security, where no one caught the snafu. Adem also states that the name on Yusef’s boarding pass wasn’t even “close” to her grandmother’s. Fortunately, the two women were reunited Sunday evening.

The incident is under investigation by both Delta and the TSA. TSA officers are required to match boarding passes with a passenger’s driver’s license, passport, or other photo identification. Says TSA representative Greg Soule,”Every day TSA screens nearly two million passengers and utilizes many layers of security to keep our nation’s transportation systems secure,” he said. “Every passenger passes through multiple layers of security to include thorough screening at the checkpoint.”

[Photo credit: Flickr user kappuru]

Wheelchair kid stranded by Air Canada after tweet-a-thon


An eight-year-old kid suffering from muscular dystrophy had a simple dream: to race through Central Park in a tutu surrounded by a group of supporters. After a tweet-a-thon, anchored on the hashtag #TutusForTanner (the kid’s name is Tanner) resulted in $25,000, he hopped a plane for New York. The trip ended with the discovery that his $15,000 wheelchair had been ruined during the flight.

Tanner was stranded. He couldn’t go anywhere without a replacement.

Air Canada promised an immediate remedy – who wouldn’t? – but hours passed and no wheelchair materialized at LaGuardia. And, the airline has said it can’t fix the situation until Monday. Tanner is not in Central Park. Rather, he’s stuck in a hotel bed, possibly for up to five days. Until Air Canada comes through, Tanner isn’t going anywhere.


Also, wheelchairs. But fingers crossed that’s sorted properly. Delirious. Going to curl up & cry, & sleep. Love to you all #tutusfortannerless than a minute ago via TweetDeck


Needless to say, Twitter is upset – well, specifically the people on Twitter. The folks who tweeted to send Tanner to Manhattan are now livid that Air Canada, according to TechEye.net, “has dashed the hopes of a dying child and ruined what could have been a joyous moment in his last remaining days.”Fortunately, the Twitter-verse seems to be focused on getting a replacement wheelchair for the kid, though it appears that the situation hasn’t been fixed yet. Notes the article, “The #TutusForTanner campaign is still ongoing, growing, and welcoming more support.” Meanwhile, Air Canada still hasn’t done anything, according to the report.

Three important questions to ask when booking a hotel room for a person with a disability – Hotel tip

If you’re booking a room for a person with a disability, be sure to ask about the following:

  1. Does your wheelchair accessible room have a roll-in shower? Many just have grab bars over a tub.
  2. Does your hotel supply a shower chair? If it does not, plan to bring one with you. We tend to have poorer balance away from home.
  3. Is there an accessible exposed outlet by the bed? Power wheelchairs should be charged at bedside, and CPAP machines should be plugged in by the night stand.

If your hotel has an ADA coordinator, use him. The service is free and will guarantee that your needs are met.