Outdoor adventures for all abilities

Authored By Jenni Frankenberg Veal

Chattanooga’s Therapeutic Recreation Services is breaking new ground in the great outdoors for individuals with disabilities in the Chattanooga area.

Founded in 2002, this division of the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department coordinates sports and social activities for individuals with disabilities. Recently, the program has delved into Chattanooga’s outdoor scene, adding rock climbing, kayaking, hiking and bicycling activities.

“Our outdoor recreation programs help show the community as a whole what ‘ability’ really means,” said Elaine Adams, a therapeutic recreation specialist and coordinator of the program. “These programs help break down barriers that have traditionally set people apart. Anybody that needs any kind of accommodation to help them be more successful, we are more than willing to help them.”

The Climbing Higher Program, held at Urban Rocks Gym in Chattanooga each spring and fall, has been particularly successful. Adaptive rock climbing equipment and harnesses purchased with grant funds provided by Columbia Sportswear and Rock/Creek Outfitters allow individuals with disabilities the opportunity to try out rock climbing. Eight experienced rock climbers also volunteer with the program.

“We help individuals reach their own goals, which might be overcoming a fear, getting a few feet off the ground or reaching the top of the wall,” Adams said. “Several people have told me they have seen an increase in endurance, muscle tone and hand-eye coordination.”

For Randy Brown, who is new to rock climbing, outdoor recreation has always been an important part of life. Brown, who was injured after falling out of a tree stand while hunting eight years ago, credits the Shepherd Center rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta with encouraging his continued interest in outdoor recreation pursuits.

“They helped me realize that even though you may have a disability or injury, you can still do the things that you love to do-it just may be a little different,” said Brown, a quality manager for Shaw Industries who lives in Rock Spring, Ga. “Five weeks after my injury, I went on a hunting trip for an entire weekend.”

Brown is enthusiastic about outdoor recreation, and he encourages others to get outside in order to enjoy all that life has to offer. “It’s all about the excitement and the rush for me-and the social aspect,” Brown said. “In fact, I’m trying to get Elaine to get a group to go skydiving.”

Earlier this month, Brown and 14 other Climbing Higher participants ventured outdoors to try their rock climbing skills at Stone Fort, an infamous climbing area located at Montlake Golf Course on Mowbray Mountain in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn.

“Because I can’t grip with my hands, I used a lever and handle to pull myself up,” Brown said. “It’s different because it’s adaptive, but it is as close as you can get to the real thing. It was a beautiful view once you got up to the highest point you could go.”

Programs like these also offer participants a convenient way to try a new sport before investing in equipment.

“Programs such as these-and the sponsors that support them-are really important because they allow people like me and others to try out new things,” Brown said. “You don’t know if you like something unless you try it, and it’s important to try it out before investing in the necessary equipment.”

Adams said that many of the outdoor programs are family-friendly, and she is hopeful that the experiences will help build skills and activities that families can share throughout life.

Last winter, Chattanooga’s Therapeutic Recreation Services launched a new kayaking program for individuals with disabilities and their families in partnership with Outdoor Chattanooga. Participants practiced at the UTC pool throughout the winter, and Adams is looking forward to the group’s first kayaking adventure this month. The program also coordinates a bimonthly bicycling program, which meets at the Chattanooga Riverpark.

“These programs have a lot of benefits,” Adams said. “The social aspect-being a part of something and joining a community that might not have been easily accessible to them before-is as important as the health benefits.”

For more information about Therapeutic Recreation Services, visit their website or call 423-697-1374.

Jenni Frankenberg Veal is a freelance writer and naturalist living on Walden’s Ridge. She enjoys writing about the natural world and exploration opportunities found within the southeastern United States, one of the most biologically and recreationally rich regions on Earth. Visit her blog at www.YourOutdoorFamily.com.