Climbing To New Heights

By Jason Colvin

Emily started getting ready 20 minutes before siesta ended, and left her cabin 10 minutes before her cabin mates were to be on the ropes course. She was excited about the climbing activities scheduled for the day and wanted to be on time.

As I was setting up the final pieces of gear, I heard an enthusiastic “Hello, ropes course peeps!” As I turned around, I saw Emily and her counselor. Emily was smiling from ear to ear.

“Welcome to the high-ropes course,” I replied in an equally enthusiastic manner. “Congratulations, you get to be the first camper to climb this summer!”

“Oh, no, I can’t climb,” she said. “I’m just excited to watch my friends climb.”

“What do you mean you can’t climb,” I asked. She shot me a look that I had seen before. I could tell she thought I must be crazy, and that I had complete disregard for the fact she was using a wheelchair. Before she could say anything, I asked, “Do you want to climb?”

“Yes, but someone like me is not able to climb,” she replied.

“You may not be able to climb like the others,” I explained. “But there is a way you can climb. Would you like to try? I can help you.”

“Yes,” Emily squealed.

 “Let’s get you into a harness,” I replied.

The camp utilized a specialized harness that Emily later called the “sky chair.” As I was strapping the multitude of buckles, Emily said, “You know, it is OK if I can’t; I have been told ‘no’ before.”

I turned toward her and said, “Not today. Today we are saying ‘yes.’ This harness sure has a lot of buckles to work with. I’m almost done.”

Along with the “sky chair,” the staff members had a rigging of rescue pulleys that allowed them to assist Emily as she climbed the vertical cargo-net portion of the course. She gave the command and away she went—all the way to the top of the course. “Emily, are you ready to come down?” I asked after a few minutes

 “No,” she replied. “I would like to hang out here for awhile.” She stayed there for over 10 minutes, viewing life from above the tree line. As I lowered her from the top of the course, her counselors and fellow campers were cheering. As soon as she was safely in her chair, Emily started crying. Her counselor asked, “Emily, what’s wrong?”

 “I never thought something like that was possible for someone like me,” she said. We were all moved by her emotions, and tears appeared in many eyes in the crowd.

Emily’s experience embodies the mission at our organization—allowing the opportunity for the seemingly impossible to be possible through life-changing experiences.

Jason Colvin is the director of Team Quest, a service of True Friends. True Friends is a Minnesota nonprofit organization providing camp, respite, and travel services to children and adults with disabilities. With five lakeside camps, True Friends services nearly 4,000 individuals each year.

Camp Basics:

Student to Instructor Ratio: 1:2.  Additional staff is available for step and facilitation of adaptable high-ropes systems.

Location: Camp Eden Wood in Eden Prairie, Minn.

Cost to Attend Camp: Price range is $27-54 per person (for the ropes course). This activity is also offered as part of True Friends residential disability-camp programs. Team Quest is the climbing and leadership-development program that provides enrichment opportunities for campers from students to corporate teams through experiential learning.

Ages: 7 through adults

The parent company, True Friends, through its Team Quest program, passionately provides life-changing experiences and opportunities to reach greater potentials. The company is excited to announce a brand-new design for accessible high ropes, debuting in 2015, with a fully wheelchair-accessible high-ropes course. This course will be specifically designed for individuals who utilize a wheelchair and others who will learn to adapt to the course. It’s a reverse of traditional adaptation.