AdaptABLE Outdoors, founded in 2019 by Steve and Sara Holly, uses adaptive equipment, teamwork and creativity to allow people of all abilities to experience outdoor recreation. Here, a TrailRider is used to allow for an adaptable hiking experience. AdaptABLE Outdoors photo.
Nicholas L. M. Allen
May 24, 2023
"We find that not only do our programs positively impact health, quality of life and well-being for our clients, but also for the caregivers and family members who join us on these adventures..."
A federally registered charity based in Pincher Creek believes outdoor adventures should be for everyone, with the start of their outdoor programs for people with disabilities starting on May 13.
The benefits of outdoor recreation to physical and mental health and well-being are well documented and people with disabilities often face unique barriers in accessing outdoor recreation, especially in rural communities. AdaptABLE Outdoors, founded in 2019 by Steve and Sara Holly, uses adaptive equipment, teamwork and creativity to allow people of all abilities to experience outdoor recreation.
The charity tries to keep their programs affordable for clients so that cost is not another barrier to participation. In order to deliver these experiences, AdaptABLE Outdoors relies on volunteer support, grants and private donations for equipment and operational needs.
According to their website, Steve and Sara Holly had experience volunteering for other adaptive sports organizations prior to founding AdaptABLE Outdoors. While volunteering for a local winter adaptive sports program, Steve and Sara noticed a real lack of opportunities for accessible outdoor recreation in the area, especially during the summer. Steve then set about trying to borrow a TrailRider so they could take one of the adaptive skiers out for a hike in the summer.
“It was the impact that I saw while volunteering for other organizations doing this and it was one person who, one day, after I was helping out with some adaptive skiing, this client turned to me and thanked me so much for the help that day and I very foolishly and nonchalantly said ‘Oh it was nothing’ and that client grabbed me and said ‘no it was everything” and that really highlighted to me that the impact of these programs was huge,” said Steve Holly.
Seeing the impact that hike had and hearing of a much greater need in the community for summer programming, Steve and Sara created Adaptable Outdoors to try and meet that need.
“Since we’ve been in operation, we decided to track that impact because it’s all well and good me seeing it, but I wanted some actual hard data on the great impact that it has. We partnered with the University of Lethbridge and we conducted research on the impact programs like this have on health, quality of life and well-being. The results have been incredible. We find that not only do our programs positively impact health, quality of life and well-being for our clients, but also for the caregivers and family members who join us on these adventures and even the volunteers who helped us to deliver these programs, which I thought was quite incredible,” said Holly.
In Holly’s eyes, all outdoor adventures should be accessible to everybody. With the variety of activities that exist, he found it is vital to have a variety of programs for clients to enjoy. For some people its fishing, for others it’s kayaking or hiking. All of these activities are available at AdaptABLE Outdoors for people to enjoy.
“I remember one of our very early clients when she got into the kayak, we were out on the lake and she put her hand in the water and she said ‘I’ve always wanted to do that, I’ve always wanted to put my hand in the middle of a lake’ and she’d never had that opportunity before,” said Holly. “After that paddling program we took that client into the water, swimming in the lake, which again was a complete first for her. Having variety and having different activities is really important.”
When AdaptABLE Outdoors first started, they did a survey to see what programs people would like to get developed. They wanted the clients to be the ones guiding what activities the charity offered and the top three were paddling, hiking and fishing. Those were the three they prioritized.
A big hurdle for them when developing these activities is they have to come up with much of the equipment and ideas to adapt these programs on their own.
“We have to be very, very adaptable, hence the name. A lot of the time we have to figure things out on the fly or sometimes the equipment actually doesn’t exist, so we have to develop it ourselves,” said Holly.
For their electric fishing rod, they have a variety of different switches so that people can reel in a fish at the push of a button, stamp of the foot, flick of the head or sip of a straw. Between this and the cost of the equipment available, it can be “financially prohibitive” for people to buy this equipment themselves.
“We try and keep programs incredibly low price and we also offer some programs for free because people living with disabilities are disproportionately represented under the national poverty line, and there’s already enough barriers for people to participate in this these activities. We didn’t want finances to be a barrier,” said Holly.
AdaptABLE Outdoors has seen an increase in clients every year since they have been in operation. Last year alone, they delivered over 160 adaptive experiences to clients and their caregivers with greater demand now than last year.
“We’re always on the lookout for more volunteers to help us continue to meet this increased demand for our programs,” said Holly, “The other thing is we’re always looking for more generous business sponsors who will support our programs and help us keep these programs low cost and free for those experiencing financial difficulties.”
To book an adventure or learn more, you can visit their website at adaptableoutdoors.ca with contact info available for any businesses looking to help support their programs.