Photo by Layna Hendrich of PhotographyLayn

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Challenged Athletes Foundation & Friends of Pathways

For some time, I have wanted to get involved in handcycling. Addison loves to ride her bike, and I thought it would be a great family activity, as well as good exercise. And I am always looking for more ways to enjoy accessible outdoor recreation! I am also interested in eventually participating in some kind of organized cycle race, so I thought I should try out the sport and see how it went recreationally before I made the jump to competitions.

I had known about The Challenged Athletes Foundation for many years, but had never hit the application deadlines at the right time.  Founded in 1997, their mission is to "provide opportunities and support to people with physical disabilities so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics. The Challenged Athletes Foundation believes that involvement in sports at any level increases self-esteem, encourages independence and enhances quality of life." It doesn't get much better than that!

I applied for funding for a handcycle last fall, and found out in April that I had been chosen to receive the grant- wahoo! This great organization awarded nearly 1500 grants totaling over $3 million in 2014. If you would like more information, please visit their website here. The 2015 application process will open September 1, 2014.

Being awarded my handcycle couldn't have come at a better time, as I received an invitation from Friends of Pathways to participate in their annual Access August event in Jackson, Wyoming. Friends of Pathways is a non-profit organization created in 1994 that "supports a vibrant community by advocating the completion of a safe and sustainable pathways system for healthy recreation and transportation opportunities in Jackson Hole." The pathway system that has been created between Jackson and Grand Teton National Park is amazing- such a great way to actively enjoy God's creation.

This two-part event includes a Celebration Ride followed by a BBQ at Dornan's Resort. The ride is held every year in memory of Gabriella Axelrad, a 13-year old who was tragically struck and killed while cycling with her family in Grand Teton in 1999. Gabriella's family was involved in the ride as well as the program that followed. They are amazing people, and have chosen extraordinary ways to honor the memory of their daughter and continue her legacy. You can learn more about the Axelrads here.

Russ, Addison and I took off on Friday evening and drove through Yellowstone to get to Jackson. Our room for the weekend was provided by The Lexington at Jackson Hole, and it was beautiful. More importantly, it was very accessible, which is always a plus! We spent Saturday kayaking on Jenny Lake, which was a special way to celebrate the 15th anniversary of my accident. We love to kayak, and I am glad to be passing on the enjoyment to Addison. Russ also got in some fly fishing, and Addison and I splashed around in the crystal clear water. We enjoyed a double-anniversary dinner at Nani's, as Russ and I celebrated 8 years of marriage on July 29th. I have a weakness for good gnocchi alfredo, and Nani's did not disappoint!

Sunday dawned as a bright and beautiful day for the ride. We started from Windy Point right inside Grand Teton National Park. I rode my handcycle while Russ pushed Addison in the jogging stroller. This was my first official ride on my cycle, and after some minor adjustments in the parking lot before we took off, it was a great inaugural ride! I ended up getting an Invacare TopEnd XLT handcycle, and I am very happy with it. It is a great way to experience recreational handcycling, and I know it will allow me to enjoy countless hours riding with my family.

After the ride, we headed to Dornan's for a delicious BBQ. The program that followed involved various speakers, including Wyoming Senators John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, GTNP Superintendent David Vela, Gabriella's father, David Axelrad, and myself. I was so honored to be a part of this amazing group of people that are passionate about safe and accessible pathways in Wyoming. I spoke about the importance of allowing people of all abilities the opportunity to enjoy Wyoming as active participants as opposed to passive observers, something that is at the top of my priority list.

It was an incredible weekend, and we are all excited about continued involvement in this annual event. I was also invited to return this winter for the adaptive skiing program in Jackson, and I am very much looking forward to that opportunity. If you ever have the chance to visit Wyoming, don't miss the gorgeous Jackson area with its amazing, accessible pathway system!

She loves the water!
Kayaking at Jenny Lake

My two favorite people
After the ride
Had a blast! CREDIT: David J Swift. ©2014 David J Swift

L to R, Charlie Winlow, Pat Winlow, Hank Phibbs, Jake Winlow, Leland Christensen, Senator John Barrasso, Ashlee Lundvall, David Vela, David Axelrad, Katharine Dowson, Liza Bercovici and Senator Mike Enzi. CREDIT: David J Swift. ©2014 David J Swift

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