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Making A Difference Might Be the Easiest Thing You Do All Week

November 28, 2016 | Uncategorized

By Hunter Hedenberg
Senior at the University of Vermont and Guest Blogger

When someone offers you the day off to go mountain biking, you should probably take that opportunity. If that day has perfect temperatures and a cloudless sky at peak Vermont foliage season, you should call your boss and ask. If that opportunity allows you to team up with Vermont Adaptive, you’d be a fool not to go. That was the day I was offered in October 2016, and I jumped at the chance. I’m an enthusiastic biker myself, and the opportunity to get involved with an accomplished and deserving group of people is nothing to sneeze at.

When I first arrived with my mountain bike to meet Kelly Walsh, the Vermont Adaptive regional program coordinator, in Burlington, she was excited to meet me and immediately made me feel welcome. Then, I met Chuck; a veteran with a disability who immediately humbled my bike skills. Chuck rides his bike everyday and makes my fitness level look like a puppy trying to keep up with a giraffe.

We piled in to the Vermont Adaptive Suburban and cruised off on our way to Trapp Family Lodge, where we met a few other staffers, volunteers and veterans. Kelly and I chatted about the group we were meeting up with, Vermont Adaptive, our lives, and mountain sports in general. Chuck took a nap and snored over us.

The Vermont Adaptive group of veterans is an open and welcoming bunch, even though I was the outsider. In this group I was just barely a volunteer, and more like a participant. Vermont Adaptive does work with almost anyone to make almost any mountain sport accessible, however, in this particular group; the focus was on getting outdoors and building community. It meant that my first experience working with Vermont Adaptive was focused on building relationships, as well as getting all abilities active. More than once some of our vets toppled off their bikes, but good-naturedly waved us away when we tried to help them right themselves. (Now seems like an appropriate time to mention that the person who fell off their bike first, was me.)

Vermont Adaptive isn’t about what anyone can’t do. It’s more about what you want to do, and how to make that happen. In this case, this is a group of veterans who have various emotional/behavioral disabilities who are looking for a community to be a part of and a way to get involved.

A typical outing consists of Kelly with seven or eight regulars, and they simply go out and do whatever it is that the group wants to do. Whether that is skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer, or mountain biking in the fall, it provides an opportunity for a community that needs community to build the group that they need.

The veterans don’t spend a ton of time talking about what it is that they’re going through, but when they do, it’s a candid and honest conversation about the issues that are relevant to them. Just as none of the veterans I met hesitated to jump on a bike and cruise down a trail, they also didn’t tiptoe around the issues that they struggle with. Kelly and Chuck spent a good portion of the car ride simply talking about Chuck’s life and what he’s been going through. This is a group where the issues are not the focus, but they are obviously present and the point of the group is to simply handle it.

So maybe “activism” isn’t your thing. But does rock climbing seem cool? What about hiking Vermont’s highest peaks? Or skiing? Trail running? Riding the length of Lake Champlain? This may be volunteering, but it isn’t your typical experience of cleaning dishes in a soup kitchen. This is about getting involved with a group of people who are building a community to help people. If you are drawn to any of these sports in any capacity, I guarantee that Vermont Adaptive has a place for you.

Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 is #GivingTuesday, a national day to celebrate giving back and paying it forward. Please consider making a gift to Vermont Adaptive with a donation online and help us continue our mission of providing sports and recreation to all abilities.

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