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Jen: Northeast Passage has become a gateway to becoming fully alive

Jul 14, 2011

Received: March 2007

I’m 22 years old, I was born with spina bifida, and I have been a full-time wheelchair user since the age of 2. I’m currently a student at Boston College, where I study developmental and educational psychology. I serve on the governing board of the National Youth Leadership Network and the National Council on Disability Youth Advisory Committee, and I am an alumnus of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) Congressional Internship Program. I’m a delegate with the International Congress on Inclusion of Children with Disabilities and the World Congress of Rehabilitation International, and I’ve appeared as a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show. I love reading, traveling, and music.

Growing up with a disability, my parents never exposed me to recreation opportunities, and for the most part, I tended to avoid physical activity because it felt so off-limits. Seeing my friends participate in sports and outdoor activities made me envious of their opportunities, and at times, I resented having been born with my disability. I had an overwhelming desire to be active and have fun, but I lacked the information, expertise, and fellowship that I needed to participate in recreational activities.

I have been involved with Northeast Passage for only a year, and in that short time, my outlook on myself, my abilities, and my life has changed in so many ways. At my first Northeast Passage event, I was blown away. I met new and fascinating people, learned about handcycling, appreciated the beauty of the trail, had fun, and did something wonderful for my body and my mind. I began to see that with a little bit of creativity and know-how, I was capable of more than I ever thought possible.

That summer, I participated in Northeast Passage cycling events and adaptive paddling events, and took the information I’d learned to begin to cycle and kayak with my family and friends. I even went waterskiing for the first time with Northeast Passage. As the boat pulled me up and my ski began gliding on the surface of the water, I felt as if I was flying. The freedom I experienced that day and the confidence I gained was indescribable, and it was one of the most unforgettable moments of my life.

I participated in the Three Notch Ride this past year, and as a novice cyclist, it was an exhausting and punishing three days. Despite the difficulty, I was with wonderfully supportive individuals, the weather was wonderful, and the scenery was breathtaking. Other handcyclists gave me tips, the Northeast Passage staff encouraged me, and the volunteers helped me out when I needed it. When I reached the top of the Kancamagus Pass, the feeling of achievement I had was better than winning any award. I truly amazed myself by what my body was able to do. This winter, I tried cross-country skiing during the Dawn to Dusk event, and I loved being able to move around freely in the snow for the very first time in my life. When I tried skiing again a few weeks later, I noticed a significant improvement in my endurance and technique, and I was thrilled.

Whenever I come away from a Northeast Passage event, I’m completely overwhelmed with feelings of success, happiness, and amazement that I get from challenging myself and being in such outstanding company. Talking with the staff and other participants, I’ve gained so much information on everything from driving with hand controls to wheelchair maintenance. I am encouraged, challenged, and supported in everything I have done. My self-esteem and quality of life have skyrocketed since becoming involved with Northeast Passage

For me, Northeast Passage has become a gateway to becoming fully alive. When I’m cycling, skiing, or paddling, my disability goes away and I fully experience my abilities. I feel as if I can do anything. I am so grateful to Northeast Passage for making so many of those moments possible for me and for so many other people with disabilities.

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