Achieving New Heights
Skiing the incline of the mountain at high speed, sailing leisurely on calm waters, hiking arduously over perilous terrain, or kayaking on a mild-mannered rising and falling sea… These and other pursuits are a demanding trial for most people, but for some people with disabilities, it can become an enticing passion, a therapeutic adventure.
Confronting your fears is a bona fide approach to enhancing your spirit. Attempting to do what you have never done, to go where you have never gone, to see what you have never seen, are all challenges that can take your life to greater heights. Adventure therapy (AT) allows people with disabilities to do, go and see, thus bringing a new dimension to their lives.
I speak from the heart. I use a cane to assist with balance as a result of a series of brain tumour operations. Prior to these medical interventions, I had been involved in many outdoor activities. Like many people who develop a mobility disability, my world was forced to adopt new limits. Then a friend introduced me to sailing. Initially, I was concerned. What had I gotten myself into?
My first sailing session took place on a beautiful west coast day. At the dockside I met a middle-aged woman who was quadriplegic. She gazed out at the smooth-surfaced waters of Esquimalt Bay, just outside of the picturesque city of Victoria, B.C. I asked her if she knew where the Recreation Integration Victoria (RIV) sailing program was held. (RVI provides accessible recreation in the city of Victoria for people with disabilities). She replied, “Yes, they meet right here! That’s what I’m waiting for.” There was a marked tone of pride in her words.
We only spoke briefly, but I was struck by her enthusiasm. When questioned, she smiled and said, “It’s the sailing. It’s the first time in many years where I am in total control, leaving my chair behind.”
Watching her being picked up in the canvas sling of a hydraulic lift, manoeuvered to the position over the pilot area of the Martin 16 sailing vessel, then lowered into the boat surrounded by mechanical devices to operate the rudder and sails, I was dumbfounded. How will she do it? I thought. Then I saw someone place a straw in her mouth. Later, Doug Netting, executive director of RIV, explained the sip-and-puff system. The sailor bites the straw to change functions and blows out or sucks in air to control the direction of the rudder and sails.
Adventure therapy is the union between a person with a disability or other pursuit such as a life-threatening illness, addiction or trouble with the law, and a specific outdoor interest. The activity can be hiking, downhill or cross-country skiing, kayaking, climbing or any other outdoor challenge – and it generates impressive results. Adventure therapy is thought to impact directly on a person’s psyche. The AT practitioner believes that the mind and the body are one, and by involving a person with challenges in outdoor activities, this has significant benefits for their psychological makeup, thus their self-esteem, level of confidence and generally all aspects of their life.
This past April, beautiful Victoria was the site of the Third International Adventure Therapy Conference. The event attracted people from all over the globe. The conference was the brainchild of AT enthusiast Tim Cormode, Director of Power to Be Adventure Pursuits, a Victoria-based AT agency.
The conference featured keynote speakers from all over the world, and some 60 or more workshops. The academic aspects of AT are fascinating – a sound psychological explanation for the effectiveness of adventure therapy is both interesting and powerful. The philosophy, theory and risk management of AT are also thought-provoking. The theme of the four-day conference was “Ethical and Quality Practice in Adventure Therapy: Defining Commonality while Honouring Diversity.” Lofty ideals indeed, yet it is this idealistic, academic, framework from which the AT insurgence began.
Although Cormode was the driving force behind the conference, his true passion for AT is the pragmatic application of various outdoor activities to individuals who can benefit from them, whether they are teenagers with learning disabilities or adults with spinal cord injuries. According to the Power to Be website, a person becomes “a participant rather than a spectator… Participants are provided with a richer therapeutic environment for change.”
Power to Be offers its participants opportunities to get involved in rock climbing, downhill skiing, ocean kayaking and wilderness trips. Tim Cormode loves his work and finds it extremely gratifying to see individuals embrace AT.
Sandy Richards has been an AT devotee for several years. An 18-year-old impaired driver smashed into Richards’ car one evening in October of 1994. Richards sustained a major brain injury. Today, he has significant weakness on his right side. “The initial months following the collision put me in a terrible downward spiral, into the darkness of depression,” says Richards. “I used to be full of zip, I played hockey and I was an active downhill skier.”
In 1999, Richards’ caseworker referred him to Tim Cormode. “Power to Be was the best thing that could have happened,” says Richards. “I love it. I’m skiing again, kayaking and rock climbing. I’m happy. My life has really become special. I am one lucky person.”
Richards now provides peer support to other people coping with brain injuries. He says that working with others “has really opened my eyes to just how lucky I was.” He is also involved as a Power to Be volunteer, assisting as a kayaking instructor. “Kayaking is for me so wonderful, alone on the water, away from the hectic pace of the city,” he says. “The views are breathtaking. It is so peaceful.” Richards has grown out of depression and into a dynamic survivor who is making a real difference.
RIV and Power to Be are just two organizations from which people can emerge with new and positive attitudes. Most major cities and towns across Canada have agencies providing adaptive outdoor activities for persons with disabilities.
Richards has nothing but positive things to say in regards to his experiences. “With the brain injury, I was relegated to being a homebound disabled person,” he says. “Now AT has once more put me where I want to be: outdoors, enjoying life to the fullest.”
(Peter Hicks is a freelance writer and professional speaker. He resides in Victoria B.C. He can be reached by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Power to Be Adventure Pursuits
Adventure Therapy Web
Includes books, links and history of adventure therapy.
Warren MacDonald, Adventurer
Inspiring adventure stories and photos from a motivational speaker with a disability.
Love what is, not what ‘might’ be
‘Life is a one way ticket, there are no return fares.’ It is imperative that you live in the present. This moment is awesome and will never happen again. It never ceases to amaze me that so many people approach life like it is some rehearsal for the soon to happen, blockbuster, major production of ‘My Life-Part 1’. Unfortunately the rehearsal is the major production and the key player fails to appreciate this. The anticipation of the important role, indeed the main character, in the upcoming making of ‘My Life-Part 1’ causes one not to grasp the tremendous importance of the rehearsal. The try out and your life terminate in unison, in advance of your grand role in the major production ever being realized.
So there you have it. Your life is unique, incredible, and precious. What you choose to do with it is entirely your doing. Therefore the life you cultivate had best be the one you want because it is the only one you will ever have. To think otherwise is to conjure up some make believe world where you are the star, all is spectacular and adventures abound. Sounds wonderful, in fact it is amazing. This fabricated location where you blossom in magical surroundings can easily be the way it is. It is simply a matter of choice. Life is a matter of choice. You choose to love what is not what might be.
A Positive Attitude and Adversity
It never ceases to amaze me how slight regressions or obstacles in life can have such a powerful, life altering, negative impact on some of us. Yet a few persons take similar circumstances and adopt new perspectives and new levels of energy. These individuals appear to go form ordinary to extraordinary. The question begs to be asked, "How does someone who by every definition is an average, run of the mill, everyday type person become someone who encounters major life challenges an emerges a Champion?" The answer, "We are all Champions, but for the most of us it is a lesson we have yet to learn".
My own personal battle began some eighteen years ago with the diagnosis of a 'brain tumor'. Subsequently I have undergone three neurological surgeries, initially to remove the tumor, nine years later to install a 'shunt' (a plastic tube running beneath the skin from my brain to my stomach cavity allowing the cerebral fluid to drain) and a year later to once more remove the unwanted tumor that had re-grown. Due to the invasive qualities of the tumor wrapping itself around crucial nerves it was the opinion of my Physician not to remove the entire tumor. My Doctor (a Great Man) feared it would do catastrophic damage. Every year or more for the past decade I have gone for an 'MRI' (Magnetic Resonance Image). This diagnostic tool is utilized by the medical profession to monitor the progression of my residual tumor. It is slightly growing and further surgery maybe required. It took this medical difficulty to allow me to develop the 'Champion inside me'. The fundamental characteristic of the Champion, 'is A Positive Attitude'. Again a question must be asked, "What is a Positive Attitude”?
A positive attitude is simply the way we perceive the world. Nothing more and not a thing less. For many persons the world is a frustrating place with many barriers that impede our progress. These people view the world as a difficult place where they may find solace only through alternative choices such as drug and alcohol abuse. Following a career of approximately 22 years in prisons in various capacities, I was exposed to many such persons. The 'Champion inside' is reality based and will not survive the false pretences created through the shroud of 'addiction'.
A Positive Attitude is simply a choice. Many people see this world as a marvellous place, full of opportunities. If the 'Champion' is to arise it is your call. No matter what your difficulty the Champion within will only respond to a 'Positive Attitude'
It is your choice
Whatever transpires during the coarse of ones life is simply a series of events that we have consciously and unconsciously selected. Many circumstances are beyond our control during the early portions of our life. Chemical imbalances, physical limitations, Psychiatric disturbances, etc. may have substantial effect on the journey our life takes. However for the most part our initial living conditions often place enormous pressures on the nature of the events we choose later in life. Generally someone of significance in a child's life will have enough influence to either provide a negative or a positive role model.
For many Social Workers this 'revolving door syndrome' is the most basic element of dysfunctional behaviour. If a child repeatedly watches an adult (often a parent) react to a situation in a certain fashion the displayed behaviour tends to become ingrained in the psyche and maybe mimicked during a later portion of the child's adulthood. Perhaps an example would illustrate this tendency.
As a child being raised in a loving home with a Father who had a wonderful sense of humour and a Mother that portrayed Christian Ideals whenever possible it is no wonder I have chosen the path that has allowed me to speak to groups and write. I learned patience when dealing with anger issues and am constantly seeking the funny aspects in every setting. It was these early lessons that were the pre-cursors to the choices I have made as an adult. My early years sadly are not typical in our society. Many Children are brought into a world where neglect, authoritarian conduct, addictions etc. replace love, Christianity and fairness. For these individuals it is very difficult to recognise inappropriate conduct due to the fact that this is what they have learned. But the wonderful aspect is that whatever is learned can be unlearned. This process of adopting new lessons and relinquishing old ones is not a simple procedure. The premier step in this change technique is to understand that the behaviour we are displaying as adults is generally but not always linked to early lessons. It has been my experience working with persons in prison that the majority of criminal conduct, deviant attitudes, negative self-image, poor self-esteem, inability to deal with conflict, alcohol and drug addictions, and the general lack of moral responsibility, can be co-related to some aspect of that person's childhood. This being said allows us all to appreciate that the choices we make, as adults are often very similar to those made by that significant person from our childhood. Their influence is far reaching and often devastating. 'A chip off the old block', 'You are just like your Father' (your Mother, your Brother, your Uncle, your Grandpa…etc.). When we finally understand the connection between our mannerisms now and that of persons in our past it is then possible to adopt new behaviours. It is always your choice.
Why should I care about Disability Issues
Disability is an issue for us all. One day you are driving the kids to hockey practise, picking up a few groceries at a near-by deli, and later going to dinner at that quaint rooftop café, followed by a little dancing at the new trendy bar beneath a large hotel. All these activities are quite routine and present no prior thought, planning, or inconvenience. Of coarse the car may break down and walking for part if not all of the day maybe an option.
If the weather does not cooperate then alternative means of transport may be required. Now this may dictate a little bit of thought into planning so that your day is not further disturbed. Now you drag the kids on public transit with all their heavy duffle bags stuffed full of hockey equipment, you get to your destination exhausted from the ordeal. The change room for your boys is on the upper floor which dictates that you climb four sets of stairs. While the boys change you and your daughter go back down the stairs to the coffee shop. You have a steaming hot latté and your daughter a strawberry milkshake. After ten minutes once more you both climb the steps to discover the boys have already left. Down the stairs you go in search of your truant children. Along the way another Father stops you to see if you are able to play 'Old Timers' pick up hockey the following morning. You quickly agree and continue in search of your two junior hockey stars. Reaching the rink you spot your boys skating over to greet you. The coach a man in his fifties, with a baldhead and black-rimmed plastic glasses offers you and your daughter a seat on the bench behind the home teams net. You accept and climb the two steps to the bench. The seating is narrow and uncomfortable but it is the best seat in the house. You think to yourself how difficult this trip to the arena with your children has been without the convenience of your automobile. Now envision this same scenario for a person in a wheelchair. It could so easily be you. A car collision, an industrial accident, a devastating medical condition, and so on, there are many reasons for disability. This is why you should care about disability issues.
Peter Hicks, a Motivational/Inspirational speaker living in Victoria, B.C., Canada. If your organization is in search of a Professional Speaker, please contact Peter by e-mail at: