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]

Video of the Day: Paraplegic girl bungee jumps in Whistler

Traveling with disabilities poses its own set of challenges. However, challenges can be overcome. That’s what makes this video so inspiring. Not one to let her paralysis keep her from enjoying an adventure, this paraplegic woman bungee jumped – with her wheelchair – off a bridge in Whistler, BC. The next time you’re feeling skittish about hitting the road, trying something new or testing your limits, remember this girl. I’m pretty sure she could kick my ass.
Check out the World’s Wackiest Vacation Rentals!
%Gallery-150253%

Check out Albuquerque’s Breaking Bad Tour!
%Gallery-149134%

Ten best extreme wheelchair sports videos

It wasn’t until a close friend of mine wound up in a wheelchair that I took any notice of sports for quadriplegics. That’s when I realized the athletic feats accomplished by these wheelchair-bound competitors are truly astonishing. While I, and my perfectly capable limbs, stood on the side lines and cheered, my friend was out skydiving, skiing and even kayaking as a “quad.” Check out the ten best extreme wheelchair sports in this round up of videos.

Can’t Feel My Legs, Haha
Clay Egan is one of the best Rock Climbing drivers in the world. This inspirational man broke his neck in a motorcycle accident, but that never stopped him from participating in events that have him literally falling off of cliffs. After one wild fall, he remarked, “Man I can’t feel my legs!” Just a little quad humor.

North Pole Wheelchair Accessible
The North Pole is wheelchair-accessible? David Shannon proved that it is. He reached the summit on the 100 year anniversary of the first North Pole expedition. This video outlines the journey he took and the obstacles he encountered. Many able-bodied people try and fail, but this quadriplegic was a success.

Hang Ten, Baby. Quad Surfing
The Disabled Surfing Association of Australia allows Kelly McCann, a C2 quadriplegic to surf. She has no use of her arms or legs and needs constant breathing assistance, but can get on a board and experience the awesomeness of the ocean.

Yes, He Can
Gene Rodgers does it all in this video clip. Bungee jump? check. Ride an elephant, check. Parachute? check. This quadriplegic has done it all and his catchy little background song is by the blind musician Jeff Moyer. “Yes, I can”….and yes I will be singing this all day now.

Leave Your Disability at the Dock
Beautiful clip on sailing for quadriplegics. Control the sails and gain your freedom on the open sea. There is a man in this clip who gets to take his wife and service dog out for a sail. On land he is dependent. In the boat, he is in control.

Scuba Diving, Up Close and Personal
Dive right in. Regardless of your abilities, diving is a wonderful experience. The adaptations they have for quadriplegics like zip in wet suits and webbed gloves make it easier for anyone to give it a try.

Gooooaaaal!
Power soccer athletes doing their thing. Played indoors with a foot guard over the front of a power wheelchair. This sport allows individuals who are completely dependent on others for their day to day care to be competitive athletes. Fun video to watch!

Ride a Bike
All ages get together to ride hand cycles. These awesome pieces of machinery allow the wheelchair bound freedom on the streets. I loved seeing the little kids on the bikes. The clip mentions how the hand cycle gives them common ground with their family and friends. Going for a bike ride puts everyone on the same playing field, nice.

Sledge Hockey at the Paralympic Games
Exciting game! Check out these Canadians, nothing disabled about them. They came away with the GOLD.

King of Extreme Wheelchair Sports
We end this round-up of the 10 best quadriplegic extreme sports with the “King of Extreme,” Rugby. Wheelchair rugby, or Murderball, is brutal but thrilling to watch.

Paraplegic climber summits Kilimanjaro!

A few days back we posted a story about paraplegic athlete Chris Waddell attempting to climb Africa’s highest peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro, under his own power. When that story was written Chris was still in the midst of his climb, and was camped on the mountain at 18,000 feet. Yesterday, he completed his epic journey, and became the first paraplegic to reach Uhuru Peak, the highest point in Africa.

The details of Chris’ final push to the top of the mountain remain a bit thin at the moment, but the most recent update to his blog shared the news, saying: “This just in… It’s official ! … Chris is the 1st paraplegic to summit Kili, unassisted! This is wonderful news and we are so very excited. Today is a very, good day! Congratulations to Chris Waddell & the One-Revolution team on a successful summit of Mount Kilimanjaro!!!!” A second update later in the day said that the team had returned to Kili’s crater, where they were spending the night, and that there would be further updates today once they had descended the mountain and returned to their hotel.
In order for Chris to go up Kilimanjaro, he and his team, had to put together a special cart that he could propel using his hands. He essentially peddled the cart, using just the strength of his arms, all the way to the top of the 19,340 foot mountain, dealing with widely varying terrain, plenty of loose rock scree, and the effects of altitude along the way.

For Chris, this is just another amazing accomplishment for a guy who hasn’t let his disability stand in his way. He wanted to make the climb to inspire others, and I think it safe to say that he did just that. Congrats to him and his entire team.