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Hiking should have been easy. It is basically walking where the head must be kept up, the chin parallel to the ground, the back lengthened, the shoulders placed down and back, the arms swinging, and the feet stepping from heel to toe.
The same goes for biking. You just have to lift a leg, put it on the ground on the other side, push off by foot, tuck feet upwards onto the pedals, keep eyes straight ahead, lean forward when ascending, squeeze brakes when descending and keep maintaining weight while cycling on.
Hiking and biking should also be just fun outdoor exercises. You get to see places and notice nature while burning calories, building strength, gaining balance, having endurance and stamina, defining shape, toning muscles, increasing cardiovascular fitness, improving joint mobility and reducing the effects of arthritis and osteoporosis.
But hiking and biking aren’t easy for Amanda Powell. She has mild cerebral palsy, which refers to motor impairments caused by mild damage to the developing brain that may go unrecognized in the early years of childhood. She has weak arms and legs, and muscle spasms resulting in impaired balance and coordination as well as muscle weakness.
They also aren’t just only fun outdoor exercises for her. Hiking and biking would let Amanda get to be with her 3-year-old daughter and reach out to people—with disabilities or able-bodied. “I have a toddler. She’s 3 years old and she’s learning to bike. So safety is definitely a big thing for me. I research a lot to find a trail that is not close to a river, a mountain peak, or to something that she could just run right off.”
“I also understand that getting out there to travel can be very expensive. People with disabilities especially, struggle with their health. So to break down some of those barriers, I help more people with disabilities get out on trails.” A mountain biker who doesn’t have a mountain bike herself, Amanda got into adaptive outdoor recreations such as adaptive hiking upon finding out about the U.S. National Parks Access Pass.
“My family and I have always liked the outdoors. We used to own a cabin, go fishing and camping. But I haven’t always been a traveler and mostly felt hiking was for other people that had different capabilities than I did. I didn’t want to be a burden to other people that I traveled with or hiked with. [But] I realized that I could actually hike when I found out about the National Park Pass. If you have a permanent disability, then you can get a lifetime pass and get into all the national parks for free, discounts and stuff.”
Amanda went on to challenge herself then and has been happier since, saying, “I’ve always struggled with anxiety and depression. I sort of feel confined inside. So getting outside has helped me to be more active.”
Since then, she’s had memorable adaptive hiking experiences. She recalls one of them, “In 2018, I hiked with my husband at the Delicate Arch Trail at the Arches National Park. The trail is not wheelchair-accessible but there is a viewpoint trail at the park that you can view from the distance, not from the top. Once we got to it, it was so beautiful. The sun was rising and I really wished for everyone to see it. I consider this to be my ‘blood, sweat, and tears’ hike because I was able to accomplish what I first thought I couldn’t do.”
She does admit that hiking is not for the faint-hearted. Much more so for persons with disabilities. There are various hazards to consider. Environmental hazards of terrain, location and weather; equipment hazards like equipment and food; human hazards such as participants’ abilities, medical conditions and emotional states. In Amanda’s case, she also suffers from muscle spasticity, a condition in which there is an abnormal increase in muscle tone brought about by damage to nerve pathways within the brain or spinal cord. It may interfere with movement and speech, causing discomfort and pain. But Amanda does not let her disability prevent her from enjoying the outdoors. She’s also done adaptive fat tire biking, snowshoeing, and skiing – the sky’s the limit!
Wanting to ensure that other people with disabilities can experience what she has, Amanda started a website as a handy resource for other outdoor enthusiasts. “I’m also an ambassador for the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah. They do a lot of outdoor adaptive programs to help people with disabilities and their families.”
Since fall of 2021, Amanda has organized monthly outdoor inclusivity meetups where she would hike, and the “All Abilities Challenge” for people with and without disabilities alike. “It’s helped me to have a community of people of all abilities and just stay active. Next month would be a cleanup on a wheelchair-accessible trail.” She’s planning to establish a non-profit organization aiming to help people with disabilities get out and explore the outdoors.
Amanda would like to point out that it’s important for families to do outdoor activities together. And to not be afraid to try new adventures. “Before, I felt like I didn’t belong. That people would look at me differently, being slower on a trail. But I learned not to worry about what other people are thinking. If you want to be on a trail, get on a trail. It doesn’t really matter what the disability is. If you think that it is something you’ll enjoy, at least give it a try. It doesn’t have to be all big and special. Being outdoors is for everybody!”