Outdoors for All offers opportunities for disabled adventurers
July 2, 2011
By Laura Geggel
The world of Susan Camicia, an avid Issaquah bicyclist and skier, turned upside down on June 19, 2006.
She had registered for a triathlon and was cycling on Mercer Island during a training session. As she neared the Mercer Island Park & Ride, some fence work threw her off guard and she ran into a pole, toppled over the handlebars of her bike and broke her neck.
In an instant, Camicia essentially became a quadriplegic, except for limited use of her hands.
“People always think that they work, but I have no strength in them at all,” she said. “If someone hands me a cup of coffee, it’s going to fall on the ground.”
She has learned to use both hands when picking up a cup of joe at her favorite coffee cafes. With such limited mobility, she worried that a sedentary life would be her default fate, until her recreational therapist recommended she try the Outdoors for All Foundation.
“It’s a great organization,” she said. “It has great volunteers.”
Outdoors for All helps about 2,000 people with physical or intellectual disabilities explore dozens of outdoor activities, including cycling, hiking, river rafting, rock climbing, skiing and summer day camps for children. Every year, hundreds of volunteers help participants reach their athletic potentials, or at least get a little exercise.
“I just think it’s cool,” Camicia said. “People with disabilities always pay way more to do anything. It’s like highway robbery. It’s nice when you have a break and there’s an organization there to help and not take your money.”
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A national leader in helping people with physical, developmental and sensory disabilities, Outdoors for All began one snowy day in 1978.
Join the Outdoors for All mission
Learn how to volunteer or participate at Outdoors for All at www.outdoorsforall.org, or call 206-838-6030.
Several nonprofit organizations serve people with special needs.
Issaquah Parks & Recreation
The city’s Parks & Recreation department offers recreational opportunities for people with special needs, including bowling, Concerts on the Green, dances and summer camps.
“We look to get folks out in the community to dinner, field trips, experiences outside of their house, so they can interact with others and have fun,” Coordinator Ross Hoover said.
Call 837-3346 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to volunteer.
Challenge Day Race
Every year, the Issaquah Rotary Club organizes a Challenge Day Race — a soapbox derby for youths with special needs or physical disabilities.
On July 16, the club needs volunteers to help with set up, food service and cheering. “It’s amazing to watch those kids go flying by with a big smile on their face,” Rotary Club Chairman Darrin Helfrecht said.
Email email@example.com to volunteer.
Athletes for Kids
High school athletes from seven local high schools mentor children and teenagers with disabilities or special needs through the Sammamish-based nonprofit organization Athletes for Kids. Mentors meet two to four times per month with participants during mentorships that can last more than a year. Learn more at www.athletesforkids.org.
Trained Special Olympics volunteers help youths and adults achieve in sports, including basketball and softball. Call Special Olympics Washington at 206-362-4949.
That winter, 15 children living with disabilities learned how to ski at Snoqualmie Summit. The season was so successful that the nonprofit organization Ski for All began the following year, expanding its services to more people and offering more sports.
“The best way we can describe it to people is if you can walk in the REI — if they sell it, we do it,” Executive Director Ed Bronsdon said.
Participants use special gear to help them do all kinds of activities. Connected bikes allow a blind person to cycle and a volunteer to steer, for example.
For an almost-quadriplegic skiing enthusiast, like Camicia, Outdoors For All has equipment that allows her to sit down in a contraption that kind of looks like a bobsled with skis. Volunteers accompanied her on her trip from atop Snoqualmie Summit, and two volunteers she befriended even traveled with her to Whistler so she could try a more challenging course.
The nonprofit changed its name in 2007 from Ski for All to the more inclusive Outdoors for All.
“The heart of the mission is that outdoor recreation is for all, not just the most fit, not just for the able bodied, not just for the rich,” Bronsdon said. “It’s the outdoor sports that so many people in the Northwest enjoy that enrich their lives.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure those kinds of opportunities are there for anyone regardless of their ability.”
People from every walk of life use Outdoors for All. Recently, the nonprofit has seen an influx of injured soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, but it also helps children and adults living with autism, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, blindness or any other physical or intellectual disability.
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Volunteers are needed from June through September for all types of outdoor exploration, such as rock climbing in Seattle, river rafting in Leavenworth, cycling and kayaking in Issaquah, and hiking at Wallace Falls, a state park just past Gold Bar on state Route 2.
Volunteers should be at least 16 years old, but younger do-gooders can help in other ways. Those ages 13-15 can volunteer in the Winter Cadet or Junior Camp Counselor programs, helping participants during recreation activities.
Volunteers unable to help at outdoor activities can help in other ways, like joining Outdoors for All through an internship or by organizing fundraisers.
Tim Reid, a 1973 graduate of Issaquah High School, has volunteered with Outdoors for All since 1989. When a friend’s wife ended up in a wheelchair after a spinal cord injury, Reid began volunteering with the skiing program when he wasn’t busy at his Issaquah law office. Ski volunteers attend a two-week training, which often improves their skiing skills and teaches them how to help others.
Even after training, “the most important skill they need to bring is a friendly and positive environment,” Bronsdon said.
Jane Searing’s autistic 21-year-old autistic son Wil Searing loves skiing, and her immediate Issaquah family began volunteering soon after he began attending Outdoors for All.
“Their training videos are amazing,” she said. “They have videos of people saying what’s helpful and what’s condescending.”
Once they’re ready, volunteers pair up with participants, everyone bundled in coats and hats and ready to scale the slopes.
“It’s just wonderful to do It’s humbling,” Reid said. “You can go up and ski with somebody who doesn’t have any legs and they beat you down the hill.”
Through volunteering, he said he has met children, their parents and adult participants alike, and all of them are amazing people.
“It’s really a meaningful thing, at least for me, to do,” Reid said.
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Rachel Chang has a harder time than most parents when is comes to finding a summer camp for her son, who is on the autistic spectrum.
That changed when she learned about Outdoors for All through a friend. For the past four years, her 16-year-old son, Jacob Chang, has attended the program’s summer day camps.
“My son, he just loves it,” she said. “He was asking about it. He said, ‘What am I doing? Am I going to Outdoors for All?’”
She said camp counselors are “very knowledgeable and accommodating. They are very in tune with the kids’ needs. They have just been wonderful.”
At camp, Jacob, a student at Skyline High School, meets other teenagers while biking, hiking or doing water sports. He tells his mother about his favorite, horseback riding, all of the time.
For Wil Searing, “it’s a big social outlet, too,” his mother said. “After these kids leave school, Issaquah Parks & Recreation has a great special population, but Outdoors for All pulls from all over.”
Wil had a thing or two to say about skiing, too. He often helps set up the race course with the volunteers, and he said he likes riding on the chair lift almost as much as he enjoys gliding down the mountain.
“I love Snoqualmie,” he said. “It is a beautiful mountain and a beautiful town.”
Sammamish volunteer Scott Carter has known Wil for years, and said he looks forward to skiing with him this winter.
“He’s a really good listener and he does a good job of translating instruction into the physical part of it,” Carter said.
Though participants pay fees for Outdoor for All activities, the nonprofit offers financial aid to those who need it. For instance, a three-week kayaking class costs $150 per person and a hike at Twin Falls in North Bend costs $30.
Participants fill out information forms so Outdoors for All employees and volunteers know how to help them.
“We want to accommodate the individual first and the disability second,” Bronsdon said.