Physically challenged sportsmen find freedom on ATVs
By Steve Casper, National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council
For many physically challenged people, the quest for outdoor recreation is just as strong as it is for able-bodied folks. Avid hunters, fishermen, archers, snow skiers, and snowmobilers don't allow their various disabilities to stand in the way of their favorite outdoor sports. In fact, many clubs and organizations for disabled people offer a calendar of events filled with outdoor experiences.
Adaptive Sportsmen, a relatively new organization based in Wisconsin, has organized many successful hunting and fishing expeditions over the past year for their members. Costs are typically held to a minimum by the generous donations from outdoor businesses and the help from enthusiastic volunteers.
Recently the Adaptive Sportsmen crew held their first ATV riding event at the wheelchair-friendly Pine Forest Lodge in Wisconsin's Iron County. Riders could access an extensive OHV trail system directly from the lodge, and enjoy other activities such as fishing, boating, canoeing, and kayaking.
A group from the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) attended the event with NOHVCC President of the Board of Directors Dan Kleen, who is physically challenged himself.
"It's great that more people get to see how valuable a tool ATVs are for people with disabilities," he said. "ATVs are a great equalizer for physically challenged people. We recreate on an equal footing with our friends who aren't limited and get to see lots of backcountry we would not be able to get to with our cars or chairs. And ATVs are not only a godsend for folks in wheelchairs, but they can also open the woods to people with many other less-debilitating disabilities."
What a lot of people don't realize is that the automatic shift ATVs of today need little, if any, modification for disabled riders. And folks are surprised to see how well riders with paralysis below the chest or waist can tackle the trails.
"There were a lot of advanced riders at this deal who really put their quads through the paces," says Dan. "And on the other hand, we also had the opportunity to introduce some riders to the sport for the very first time this weekend." The three days of trail riding at the Mercer event offered two different guided groups to ride with each day, a fast bunch for the experienced riders and a more sedate tour for beginners.
"NOHVCC is proud to be a part of this first annual event and we're really looking forward to next year already," Dan concluded. " I would also like to encourage other trail enthusiasts to get involved with disabled organizations and get some ride events going."
During the final night campfire, one of the participants in a reflective moment, summed up the mood of the entire weekend. "Ya know, recreation really helps make life better."
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Updated March 16, 2007