When I sustained a spinal cord injury in 2000, I spent just over three months in a rehabilitation hospital. During the time I was there, I made friends with the other inpatients as we were all going through a difficult time together. While there, we learned a whole list of lessons, including how to transfer in and out of our wheelchairs, a skill we’d need for everything from getting into bed, to the shower, the car, you name it. We learned wheelchair skills like wheelies, popping down curbs and maneuvering through doors. We learned to drive with our hands, tried all kinds of recreational activities and were exposed to many of the things that would help us get our lives back following a serious injury. I loved being among all of my new friends because they could understand what I was going through and the steep learning curve that was ahead of us all. But there was one big difference between myself and the other patients. Most of them were men. As it turns out the largest demographic of spinal cord injuries are typically young men (upwards of 80%). The whole time I was in rehab, I crossed paths with just one other female. And once I was discharged, I found the same thing to be true. I met very few women with spinal cord injuries or who were wheelchair users. Despite that fact, I blazed my own trail, getting involved in sports and getting back to the activities that made me, me.
So, on a night eight years ago, when I was surfing the web aimless and bored, and came upon a grant application for $5,000 from the Avon Foundation, the wheels in my brain immediately started spinning. The application stated that funding would be given to women who wanted to create programming which would make a difference in the lives of other women, whether in their community or throughout the world. When I saw the application, I immediately conjured up a flash of an idea I had had at one point to bring together female wheelchair users, such as myself, to do a fitness/adventure camp. Maybe I could finally figure out where all of the other women were who had a disability but were determined not to let it get in the way of living a full life.
I sat and stared at the computer wanting to fill out the application, but knowing full well that I didn’t ultimately have a solid plan in place. But some of my best decisions have come from simply jumping off the proverbial cliff and figuring it out on the way down. I filled out the application and some three months later, I received a letter stating that I had won, one of these prestigious grants.
Oh, crap! Now what? That was the moment that my cliff jumping didn’t seem like such a smart idea, but there’s no better catalyst to getting something done than knowing you don’t have an option. I immediately got on the phone and email and started collecting friends who I thought might be interested and willing to help me put together this dream camp. Eleven of us came together and established a name, mission and vision, timelines and programs. We shared resources and divvied up tasks.
After looking at what we had planned, I knew we couldn’t do it on $5,000 alone, so I got to the task of raising money. The dollars trickled in from friends and family who believed in my mission, as well as assistance from the Challenged Athletes Foundation. We were set and in less than five months, we held the first Camp Discovery in 2009. That year, the volunteer committee learned a lot about how to run an event such as this, and though it was slightly stressful behind the scenes, none of the participants were any wiser. They were testing themselves and their limits in activities such as handcycling, golfing, scuba diving, and more. They were smiling, laughing and growing. The first year was an amazing success! It was great to meet 14 other women who had had experiences like I had and to be able to really talk about what it meant to be a woman with a disability, but also move beyond it and create the lives we wanted.
After the success of the first camp a precedent had been set. My committee and I knew we could build upon it, make it better and sustain it for many years to come. As a result, we set out to planning a second year of camp. This three-day event was again a success with women coming from all over the country to learn together and create lasting friendships. And although we as a committee knew that we were on to something great, we could never have guessed the number of participants who would tell us that the weekend was literally life changing.
Now as we move into the eighth year of camp, together with my organizing committee, we have begun our own non-profit organization, The Cycle of Hope. The name of the organization comes from the title of my book and my journey through a spinal cord injury. We are excited to have begun a new chapter in serving other women with disabilities, who require full-time use of a wheelchair for mobility. But these women are far from the typical sentiment you often hear, “confined to a wheelchair.” There has been more freedom and activity from each of them then, I think, even they had imagined. And that is the point of Camp Discovery and The Cycle of Hope. Becoming free. Experiencing all that life has to offer. Empowering Movement.
If you are interested in learning more about Camp Discovery and the Cycle of Hope, please visit our website at: www.campdiscoveryco.com, and stay posted for our new website at: www.TheCycleofHope.org. You can also find use on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, by searching for our handle: TheCycleof Hope.
We look forward to growing across the country and expanding our reach, changing the lives of many other women with disabilities.