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It’s All About Inclusion
Bend’s reputation as an outdoor paradise is justly deserved, with rivers and lakes to paddle and mountains to ski, hike and bike — and thanks to Oregon Adaptive Sports (OAS), visitors with disabilities have a great resource to access the bounty of outdoor adventures. Oregon Adaptive Sports is a Bend-based nonprofit originally founded in 1996 as an adaptive skiing program. In the two decades since its founding, the program has grown to become a year-round resource providing life-changing outdoor recreation experiences to individuals with disabilities to get outside along with their friends and families.
In recent years, the summer program, which operates from late May to early September, has been expanding and now includes seven sports for youth and adults including road cycling, mountain biking, hiking, paddling, indoor and outdoor climbing, as well as golf. Registration for these programs will open on Monday, May 10, 2021 and are expected to begin in June.
There are many ways to participate with OAS: attend Community Programs, book Custom Adventures or participate in area competitive events with support from OAS. OAS is equipped to accommodate a full range of populations, including those with physical impairments ranging from spinal cord injuries, amputees, stroke victims and visually impaired individuals to those with developmental impairments including ADD/ADHD, autism and youth with learning disabilities who just require more one-on-one instruction and attention. OAS works to keep costs low for private and group sessions, and also offers scholarships to qualifying participants. The costs include gear, instruction and optional transportation from the OAS offices. As a nonprofit, OAS is inviting both new and returning volunteers to summer programming for the 2021 season. To register as a new volunteer and sign up for training, please visit the Volunteer page on the OAS website for more information.
In 2019, OAS evolved its group activity curriculum into Community Programs. These include scheduled Community Days at outdoor destinations around Bend including Riverbend Park, Slough Day Use Area, Lava Lake and Smith Rock State Park, where OAS has equipment on hand for biking, hiking, paddling, and in the case of Smith Rock, climbing. These Community Days are created as a space for everyone to enjoy the outdoors together, participants are encouraged to bring along friends and family. The Community Programs also include reoccurring cycling, indoor climbing and golf sessions throughout the summer—these sessions are both community and skill building opportunities, but shouldn’t be considered lessons.
Participants can also choose to book Custom Adventures, these private sessions can accommodate friends and family, and are a great way to get into a new sport. OAS Executive Director Pat Addabbo explains, “Individuals who come to us for private experience are partnered with trained staff and volunteers and the right equipment to get them out. They can develop and learn the skills and hopefully incorporate that into their everyday life, allowing individuals of all abilities to engage in the outdoor community.”
Custom Adventures must be booked two weeks in advance, which gives participants an opportunity to share information on their disability as well as give OAS plenty of time to prep gear and ensure appropriate staffing.
The trove of OAS gear includes tandem kayaks with a variety of chairs and paddle grips. Among the seven sports offered, paddling stands out as the most accessible sport across all groups, according to Addabbo. In addition to paddling down the Deschutes River, which flows right through Bend, OAS also travels to the crystal clear waters of Sparks Lake, Lava Lake and Hosmer Lake.
The OAS gear room is also stocked with a variety of road and mountain bikes for adults and youth including tandem bikes, recumbent bikes and hand cycles, which the group uses to get out on the scenic roads and bike paths. OAS continually communicates with Central Oregon Trail Alliance to identify the ideal dirt trails that best accommodate these bikes. There are currently 20-30 miles of forested trails that the group regularly rides.
OAS Community Days include hiking in destinations that take into account wheelchair accessibility and participants with visual impairments. And OAS is partnered with Bend Rock Gym, which hosts a climbing club as well as reoccurring Community Programs hosted by OAS on the first Tuesday of the month through the summer.
Many visitors book multiple day Custom Adventures, allowing participants and their friends and family to experience the diversity of outdoor recreation available in and around Bend together. Addabbo says a group of young adults recently booked a multi-day experience through OAS that included paddling and mountain biking, allowing the crew, which includes a disabled friend, to all recreate together outdoors. Families with a member with special needs also are encouraged to book private sessions, which can accommodate family members and caregivers, to ensure an inclusive vacation experience.
The end goal, Addabbo says, is for participants to come to OAS and learn the ropes, then be able to participate independently in the community or with their family or friends. The best example of this evolution is the 10 adaptive teams competing in the Pole Pedal Paddle, an iconic annual Bend event. The adaptive category was started a number of years ago by an OAS board member. Addabbo shares, “To us it’s a great example and success of our mission of providing life changing outdoor experiences to people with disabilities.” A majority of the adaptive athletes that competed tried a sport for the first time or improved skills through OAS.
“Our vision is to get to a point where everyone regardless of ability has access to outdoor recreation, and to us that’s inclusion,” Addabbo continues. “By having adaptive athletes compete in the Pole Pedal Paddle, right alongside 3,000 other athletes is the perfect example.”
Beyond OAS, Bend has many other characteristics that make it a great travel destination for special needs visitors including newer ADA-compliant hotels and the almost year-round accessibility of the river trail. Bend Park & Recreation District also maintains a listing of all accessible parks and trails in Bend including the new Riley Ranch Nature Preserve.