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Tanelle Bolt thrives in the Great Outdoors

A woman with a joyful expression is seated on a unique three-wheeled bike on a pebbly shore beside a lake. She is dressed in black athletic attire, complete with a helmet, and gloves, ready for an active day out. The serene lake is partially frozen, indicating a cool climate, with a backdrop of majestic mountains under a partly cloudy sky. The natural scenery suggests a tranquil setting ideal for outdoor activities.
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Growing up, Tanelle was the quintessential “outdoors” kid. Her love for nature and adventure knew no bounds. From fishing by serene lakes to conquering snow-capped mountains, her outdoor adventures were not hindered by constraints. However, life’s unpredictability threw her a curveball in the form of a recreation accident, reshaping the course of her life with a spinal cord injury. It might have been assumed that becoming a wheelchair user would diminish her enthusiasm for outdoor activities, but that assumption proved to be untrue. “The only interruption was the hospital. Within 3 days after the injury, I was back in the gym,” she said. “I was also a fitness competitor prior to my injury, in between two body building shows so my brain was reminding me that I can’t just sit here and do nothing. I left the hospital at the end of October and by Christmas time I was on the ski hill.”

Tanelle soon recognized that there was little support available for those who required help to enjoy recreational activities outdoors. She said, “there wasn’t any program or opportunity for me to rent or borrow adaptive equipment so I can go with my friends to the places I had become familiar with when I was able-bodied.” Determined to avoid a sedentary lifestyle and realizing that other active wheelchair users were faced with the same predicament, she founded RAD Recreation Adapted Society (RAD Society) whose mission is to create opportunities and remove barriers for individuals living with mobility issues to maintain healthy, active, independent lifestyles through access to the outdoors regardless of financial circumstance. From June 2024, RAD’s GearBox initiative and community partnerships will make that happen.  

The RAD GearBox will be found in various locations throughout BC with each location having different devices depending on the season. It will contain different adaptive outdoor recreation equipment for rent, from hand cycles, all-terrain wheelchairs, beach wheelchairs, portable access mats, cross country ski, sledges for hockey and more . . . Tanelle declared, “If it’s a tool that allows somebody with mobility challenges to get outside, it can be in that GearBox.” The first gear box will be in Langford, BC, Canada and it will be open part-time. The Langford prototype will primarily contain adaptive bikes as well as some all-terrain wheelchairs, adaptive kayaks, wave skis and beach wheelchairs. If you’re a wheelchair user, or a person with lower limb mobility and/or balance issues and you’re planning a vacation to Langford, BC, email RAD. They may have the equipment you need for your outdoor adventures. 

In addition to Tanelle’s quest to make outdoor recreation accessible to all, as an interior designer, she is also an advocate for universal design. Her interior design career started before her injury. “After I hurt myself, I realized that everything I’ve ever designed in my life contained barriers,” she confessed, “and I was mortified. But I was not taught universal design, no one in my family had a disability, so I designed stairs in houses and cabinets up to the ceiling.” Now that she has entered the realm of barrier free design, her eyes are opened to the inadvertent barriers created by traditional design practices. This awakening propelled her into a passionate advocacy for creating inclusive spaces that cater to everyone, regardless of their abilities. Through her consulting company she advises municipalities in British Columbia, international clients, makes presentations to architectural firms about accessibility and designs accessible spaces . . . “from retrofits to new builds.” 

She has come to appreciate the people who make an effort to create accessible spaces. Be it grandiose,  with the best and most modern accessible amenities, or a small, retrofitted space, what matters to Tanelle is accessibility and when she vacations, this is what a luxury means to her. She fondly recalls a visit to Costa Rica. She stayed in the village of Playa Hermosa at the modest Hotel Mangabay which was purpose-built for accessibility 20 years ago. “It was a lovely experience,” she reminisced. “There was no restaurant on site but a continental breakfast, cooked by the family of the hotel owner, was provided every morning. I was able to move around quite easily and even when I needed a cab, it would be wheelchair accessible.” Tanelle was quite pleased to see that this small community had curb cuts and ramps to access restaurants. With the beach in close proximity, it was an intimate, luxurious vacation that brings back fond memories. 

During her travels, serendipitously, adaptive activities seek her out. “In California, I went to the beach and I met an adaptive surfer who took me out surfing. I didn’t have to go looking for the adaptive surf club.”  California is one of the places she really liked. “It is pretty accessible and people don’t stare at you when you roll by nor do they ask inappropriate questions,” she shared. She also appreciates the proactive approach of establishments there, “If I’m booking a hotel and I say I’m in a wheelchair and need the accessible room, they say hang on, we’re going to send you to the ADA line.” Similarly, a trip to Hawaii which involved adaptive surfing and hand cycling was very impressive. “They do a good job, they’re mindful,” she mentioned. She used her friend’s equipment in Hawaii and made use of Adaptive Maui’s as well, but on road trips, she carries her adaptive equipment with her, eliminating the need to constantly search for suitable gear or facilities. This preparedness extends to her trips to places like Yukon and Northwest Territories, where having her adaptive equipment enhances her overall experience in that region.

Biking and paddling are two of her favourite activities. “Biking is easy and is the most independently accessible activity that I do. I can migrate from my garage and also easily get the bike in and out of the back of my vehicle. When it comes out of the vehicle, I can just get on it and go. With my board for paddling, it’s a bit more difficult. I have to get it out of the back of the vehicle and then figure out how to get it on my lap and to the water’s edge.” However, she defies limitations and successfully gets it done. 

Tanelle encourages people with disabilities to get out and explore and if you’re visiting Langford, B.C., the RAD Society has the adaptive equipment you’ll need to enjoy outdoor activities without the burden of ownership costs. You may have your own, but there is no need to bring every individual piece of sporting equipment with you when you travel. Plan to hit the trails, go golfing and even comfortably visit the beach or lake. Individuals with disabilities deserve to experience the benefits of outdoor recreation and it’s great to have Tanelle, the outdoor enthusiast and the RAD Society in your network! 

 

Follow their work on Instagram: @radrecreationadaptedsociety and visit their website, radsociety.ca

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