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.
It’s All About Inclusion
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 and yoga.
There are two ways to participate with OAS: attend scheduled group activities or book private sessions. 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.
Scheduled group sessions are offered throughout the summer. These group activities include a packed roster of summer cycling, group hikes, kayaking at Lava Lake, a climbing club at Bend Rock gym, ability golf and more. OAS also offers a weekly kids-focused group, featuring an optimal staff-to-youth ratio, with the day consisting of a sports-related building activity and an outdoor activity.
Participants can also choose to book private sessions, which 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.”
Private sessions 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 additionally offers hiking outings to 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 private sessions led by OAS instructors.
Many visitors book multiple day private sessions, 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.