Sports. We love ‘em. All of ‘em. From casual weekend outings to professional levels, we know how to work up a sweat, score some points, dive deep, and swell with pride as we ascend that peak. But not all sports fields are made equal. And, sometimes, our bodies don’t feel up to the task of competing – even with ourselves. Ladies and other folks, we live in the future. We live in a state of can do attitude and damned if you can stop me spirit. Disability – being differently abled – used to be a sure path to marginalization, to tedium via exclusion, to never being able to get out and have fun…
…but this isn’t your grandad’s generation.
Colorado is all about activity, “able bodied” or not. In this year’s Outdoor Issue Sports article we’re taking a look at athletes and athletic groups that are getting out there and providing access to everyone, regardless of supposed limitations. (Don’t forget to read our interview with Bill London, the septuagenarian boxer with Parkinson’s still taking a swing at life.)
There a few organizations in Colorado working to open up access to Colorado’s outdoorsy, sporty way of life for people with disabilities. I sat down with Daniel Boozan – he goes by Dan – an ambassador athlete and all around superhero for Paradox Sports. It’s a side job. His secret identity/real life job is as a product owner for a software development company where he’s a project manager. He’s an in house representative for clients. Pretty cool, high level, but let’s get back to the sports.
Paradox Sports has a simple mission:
Paradox Sports seeks to revolutionize lives through adaptive climbing opportunities that defy convention.
We are a national non-profit that has been in operation since 2007 when we conducted one of the first adaptive climbing clinics for people with disabilities in conjunction with Walter Reed Hospital.
Since then, Paradox events have been a place to connect, push limits, and change beliefs about what’s possible with a disability. Through our Adaptive Climbing Initiative course, local climbing clubs, and national climbing trips, our goal is to make climbing accessible to all.
Ok, maybe it’s not that simple, maybe they just say it well. Adaptive climbing is climbing for anyone with the will to get out there and climb, regardless of dis/ability. Dan has been involved for a while. He moved up to the area from Arizona and was a patient at Craig Hospital, a Rehabilitation Hospital in Englewood, Colorado, specializing in spinal cord injury and Traumatic Brain Injury rehabilitation. Intense. He moved up to Boulder after and decided to give climbing a try after a buddy who climbs suggested it.
The conversation went something like:
“Have you ever thought about climbing?”
No, dude, I only got one arm. I’m not gonna go climbing. It kinda seems like a two armed activity.”
“You should check out this organization…”
And the rest is history. And herstory, actually. The group is made up of adaptive climbing groups across the state, including here in Boulder County. Men, women, older folks, younger… everyone comes, anyone can get involved. No disability required.
Dan did one of these adaptive climbing groups, found out he could actually climb with the right equipment and help, and it “kinda snowballed from there….got more and more involved, taking on more and more responsibility; they asked, ‘Do you want to be one of our ambassador athletes?’” and that’s why we’re hanging out today in a very busy Upslope taproom in Boulder near where he works.
He’s a regular here; the staff even stop by to say hi and check on him. It makes sense. He’s an affable guy, easy to talk to, with a lot to say. At something over 6 feet tall, Boulder casual to a T, with the perfect not too long, not too short beard and piercing eyes, Dan is the kind of guy who has clearly been an athlete. He was a bike racer for years and a collision at full sprint with a parked car caused the TBI and paralysis of his right arm via full emulsion of the brachial plexus – it’s a group of nerves that come from the spinal cord in the neck and travel down the arm. These nerves control the muscles of the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand, as well as provide feeling in the arm. He joked that he keeps it around for the symmetry.
As someone who has had a nerve injury in my own right arm, his situation is eerily familiar, if more extreme than my own. Getting back on the proverbial bike meant finding a new way forward. With Paradox Sports, he’s an advocate and example of what people with disabilities can do, but he does a lot of bigger things now like media interviews, regular 14ers, Grand Teton, and interacting with the newly disabled and helping people adapt.
At Paradox they like to say, ‘if you show up as you, we’ll figure it out’. There’s a lot of irreverence in the group, but also a lot of love. Adaptive climbing groups can be anything from a few to a few dozen heads in one place climbing together. They’re open to anyone. Check their website for info, to sign up, and get involved. Head over to paradoxsports.org.
There are a number of excellent organizations that The Lockwood Foundation is another great organization devoted to getting underprivileged children and people with disabilities outdoors. According to their website, they are “a collaboration of professionals, donors, volunteers and like-minded individuals who want to impact the community by making the outdoors more accessible. Our leadership is dedicated to making adventure accessible to people of all abilities.”
This past July, for example, they had an event called “2 Wheelchairs, 1 14,000ft peak”. Sounds crazy, I know, but they took two folks in wheelchairs to the summit of Mt. Evans. Badass.
Another one is Ignite Adaptive Sports. Their mission is to “ignite personal growth, independence, and confidence in people with disabilities on the Front Range, and in surrounding mountain and Northern Colorado communities, by providing caring, safe, and fun adaptive winter snowsports opportunities.”
Ignite began in 1975 with a “small group of passionate people” and a clear “opportunity to enhance the lives of individuals with disabilities by providing them access to Colorado’s great winter sport of skiing. This dedicated group, in partnership with Eldora Mountain Resort, began with 10 students and has grown into a volunteer team of over 230 people serving over 300 students each year.” Their program is nationally recognized and regularly contributes “between 15,000 – 20,000 hours (worth more than $350,000) of “private snow sport lessons to hundreds of people living with disabilities in Colorado. This includes wounded active duty and military veterans served through a US Paralympic Military Program Ignite developed in 2009, in collaboration with the U.S. Olympic Committee.”
The point is clear: Colorado never says quit. Coloradans find a way. People that want to find a way come to Colorado. I said it before: we love our trails. Our trails lead everywhere, to mountain tops and glorious valleys, to lakes and rivers and streams, to biking and snowboarding and river rafting and dog walking. Our trails are never an end, but always a beginning. In Colorado, our trails are open to everyone, disabled or not.