Growing up on a small farm outside of Waunakee, Wisconsin, the outdoors has always been a big part of my life. That never became more apparent to me until after my car accident when I was 16, leaving me with a C5/6 spinal cord injury. Although I knew my life was not over, I also knew it would not be the same.
One of the most frustrating things was not knowing what to do with myself. It killed me not being able to help out on the farm with chores and field work. I was use to being on my feet and active most of the time, so this was an adjustment! At the same time, I wasn’t one to sit around and watch life pass by…but ‘what to do’ became my burden.
After high school, I pursued my degree in education. I love working with children, so this was the correct path for me to take, but I kept feeling restless inside. After taking some accessible sailing lessons, I realized what my life was missing.
Never before had I thought about sailing, but for the first time I felt like I was truly living from the inside. It wasn’t so much the sailing itself, but the experience of being out in the elements and stretching my limits that made me feel alive. After a year and a half, I became coordinator of that accessible sailing program. What an amazing feeling it was getting others out there to experience the thrill of sailing like I did…some for the first time and others doing something again that they thought was lost forever.
That endeavor fueled my desire to get back into fitness training, something I was diligent about before my accident. As a result, I was exposed to adaptive weight training, swimming, and hand cycling. A whole world was opening now, and I wanted to explore all that I could, but there were some obstacles to overcome. Many activities were just not adapted for a quad like me and back then it was very hard to find any resources that met my needs. Fortunately, my experience with the sailing program and the help of my family gave way to a determination to make things work. It wasn’t a matter of ‘if’ I could do something, but ‘how’ I could do it!
Over the years, I pursued all kinds of outdoor recreational activities including archery, hang gliding, downhill skiing, kayaking, camping, skydiving, and fishing. Since the summer of 2010, I’ve taken up shooting (crossbow & gun) and hunting.
I am not an expert on adaptive recreation, but I am passionate about getting people out to explore their own abilities any way I can. Through guest speaking and organizing some accessible outdoor events, I found ways to reach others who were struggling like I had. It always meant so much to see the excitement on someone’s face after learning about the possibilities that are out there, and even more so when an individual had the opportunity to experience it. Making that connection was starting to feel like a calling.
After meeting my Co-Editor, Chad, in 2010, I began writing about outdoor recreation for an online website he was creating. This gave me a chance to reach more people, and I began learning how uninformed the public is about the ever growing arena of adaptive outdoor resources. A few of my stories have been published in Sports N’ Spokes and PN Magazine, but what I found to be more meaningful is being contacted by someone asking for help in finding equipment or a program. For me, that is what fueled the fire for creating Able Outdoors.
As Co-Editor of Able Outdoors, it is my goal to continue connecting people with challenging circumstances to the resources they need to explore life, exercise their abilities and enjoy the great outdoors. After all, sometimes just getting out there is the most rewarding part. ~ Dawn Z