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Wild Ability

Men, women and young people of all abilities have been beating the desert heat this summer by exploring favorite high country trails like the two-and-a-half mile loop at Buffalo Park.

Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center in Phoenix, with support from organizations such as Daring Adventures, Barrows Neurological Institute and the Arizona Spinal Cord Injury Association, coordinates outdoor adventures, provides equipment like the rugged Terrain Hopper, and arranges transportation.

“Getting out in nature was a piece of my life that was missing,” said 22-year-old Christina Chambers of Mesa, an Ability360 staff member who is fond of Northern Arizona and experienced the Peavine Trail around Watson Lake in Prescott for the first time in June. “I love the quiet and the outdoor community. When you’re out on a trail, people are very encouraging. They’ll say things like, ‘Cool! You’re living your best life!’”

Chambers recently reflected upon her 10th anniversary in a wheelchair. She was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a rare disorder that can cause the immune system to attack the spinal cord. She says the group has found hidden gems of accessibility on trails all over the state. She encourages individuals of all physical abilities to participate. “Come! We’ll show you that you can do it!”

“I haven’t been to Flagstaff in years,” said Joe Rapatz, who received permission from his doctor to join in the hiking excursion. “I love fishing, camping and being in the outdoors.”

Two years ago, Rapatz’s back was broken in an accident while working on a construction site in Phoenix. He has been attending camps and programs to help him return to activities he enjoys. “It’s great to meet new people. We’re all in the same boat even though we have different injuries.”

Being in a wheelchair and out of work left him feeling “kind of lazy.” Rapatz has been thrilled to learn about organizations like Ability360 and others that promote outdoor activities like rock climbing, water skiing and alpine skiing at Arizona Snowbowl. He is currently involved in vocational rehabilitation to learn new skills that will help him get a job. “It was hard not to be able to do what I normally do,” he said. “Being outdoors and participating with everybody clears your head.”

“It’s a 100% shift in your emotional health and attitude to be able to go back to doing what you once did,” said Ability360 Vice President of Communications and Marketing Loren Worthington, who broke his neck sliding into third base off a triple hit during a City of Phoenix intramural league game 35 years ago.

“I’ve always been an outdoors person,” said Worthington. “Medical rehabilitation only gets you so far in your recovery. Ability360 puts you in touch with people with similar interests, provides new equipment to try out and peer mentoring. It’s one of the first opportunities after an accident or illness that helps you move through life, talk about things other than rehab and have fun!”

Program Coordinator Nick Pryor, a basketball athlete who has had a prosthetic leg since he was five, says the Abilty360 hiking group has more than 200 participants. “We love bringing people out. There’s the joy of being involved and the bonding that naturally occurs when you’re doing something fun outdoors.”

For more information, visit ability360.org/sports. FBN

By Bonnie Stevens, FBN

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