Attends' Adaptive Adventures Part 2


Surfing represents one of the great metaphors in life: you cannot control the tide that tries to drag you down. You can, however, control whether or not you decide to rise up and ride the wave. This is an activity that many people would traditionally assume someone with a disability would never be able to do, so taking it on is a great way to show yourself (and others around you) that you are capable of so much more than what meets the eye. 

While this can be a very physically demanding sport, there are many organizations out there helping people with mobility issues take on an adapted style of surfing. You can either sit on the surfboard and use a physical paddle to move through the water OR lay on your stomach or knees on the surfboard and paddle with your arms. It may seem intimidating at first, but once you work with experts who guide you through the process, you will experience the truly freeing sensation of riding a wave! 

Possible Adaptations:

  • Adaptive surfboard for tandem, prone, or sitting surf styles
  • Specialized floatation devices
  • Double ended paddle
  • Tie to contain legs


On Land

“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”  ~Sir Edmund Hillary


My personal rock-climbing experience happened in quite an unexpected way. Several years ago, I met an incredible Mt. Rushmore park ranger who invited me to come train with him at the Mt. Rushmore climbing course he worked at. For a week I worked on my climbing skills with him in South Dakota as he tried to teach me the art of having a calm mind and steady hand, two skills that serve you well as a climber. The day finally came for me to ascend the mountain face behind Mt. Rushmore, and I used my adaptive ‘pull-up bar ascender’ paraplegic climbing gear and scaled a 300-foot cliff. Several hours later as I surveyed the landscape hundreds of feet above the ground with a mix of terror and excitement, I realized what I had just achieved. As Sir Edmund Hillary wisely said, it wasn’t the mountain that I took on – it was my own negative believes about my abilities. I looked them in the face and said, “Nope, I’m not going to let you take me down today. I have a determination inside me that is stronger than my fear.”

Climbing a mountain is truly something you will always remember, as it will make a deep impression on how you see yourself and your abilities. While mountain climbing does require a significant amount of upper body strength, there are adaptive classes in rock-climbing gyms around the country that can help you climb under less strenuous circumstances, i.e.. with pulley assistance or climbing with a partner. 

Possible Adaptations:

  • Specialized Harness
  • Adapted Leg Loops
  • Pull-Up Bar Ascender

Horseback Riding 

I truly believe that horseback riding is the best way to combine adventure AND physical therapy. When I was first injured, horse therapy helped me to improve my core strength and balance skills tremendously; so much so, that I was finally able to sit up by myself without falling over! At certain therapeutic horseback riding centers, they have adaptive saddles that provide extra support and security while you ride. Once you feel comfortable with the movement of the horse and know you can maintain your balance, you can advance to riding with a normal saddle on trail rides around the world.

Horseback riding is similar to kayaking in the sense that it gives you an incredible opportunity to explore destinations that would traditionally be difficult to get to using a wheelchair or other mobility device. A great example of this was my trail ride up Mount Vesuvius, one of Italy’s infamous active volcanos. I had to use every bit of my core strength for the ride due to the extremely rough and steep terrain, but after an hour of holding on for dear life, I can proudly say I made it to the top! It goes to show that your balance can improve in phenomenal ways if you continue to expose yourself to activities that force you to work on your abdominal strength.

Possible Adaptations:

  • Lift assistance getting on the horse
  • Adaptive saddle with leg straps
  • Tie to secure feet to stirrups
  • Padding / cushion to protect tailbone and bottom (I have personally gotten pressure sores from riding on a saddle for too long and have learned that padding is a must!)


*Keep in mind that some locations do not feel comfortable riding with people who have disabilities due to insurance issues, so I highly recommend calling beforehand to confirm that they can commit to taking you out on the ride.


I am continually in awe of the true determination the human spirit can have to thrive under seemingly impossible conditions. I experienced this amazement one day while looking down the slope of a snowy mountain in the middle of winter in South Dakota (funny enough, a mountain I had seen the peak of while rock climbing by Mt. Rushmore). At the time, I was participating in an adaptive ski program for people with many different types of disabilities, and although I was confident the instructor would help guide me to the bottom of the hill safely, I was extremely doubtful about my own ability to operate the adapted sit-ski equipment properly. It was in that moment that I saw an accomplished blind skier speeding past me with confidence and ease, as he listened to the instructions of the tandem guide behind him. His brave spirit reminded me to remove my self-doubt and remember that humans can adapt to almost anything with a little creativity and discipline, even if that means weaving down a treacherous slope without the benefit of eyesight.

The feeling of adrenaline as the wind and snow blows through your hair while you bolt down a mountainside is incredible – and even better when a cup of hot chocolate is waiting for you at the bottom! Even though the mono-ski and bi-ski might seem like intimidating equipment to learn how to use at first, they can be tools to provide you with an incredible experience on your next winter vacation.

Possible Adaptations:

  • Tandem instructor
  • Mono-ski / bi-ski / dual-ski
  • Outriggers for stabilization
  • Padding / foam wedges

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