Tales from the Trail: Creating Camp Discovery

By Tricia Downing

Editor's Note: GRIT is proud to bring you original content written by our Trailblazers.  Tricia is a pioneer in women's wheelchair triathlon: she's the first female paraplegic to complete an Iron distance tri. Tricia is the founder and director of Camp Discovery, is a 2020 Paralympic hopeful in Olympic style shooting, and is co-hosting a new web series entitled She's Got Grit..

When I sustained a spinal cord injury in 2000, I spent just over three months in a rehabilitation hospital. Over 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 pretty much were exposed to all 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 men, usually around the ages of 18-25 (or so). 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. But I always knew that there must be more than the handful of gals I would run into out and about or at the races and I was determined to find others who shared my experiences and my desire for a full life.

As a result, in 2009, I came up with the idea of putting on a fitness/adventure camp for women, 21 years old and above, who had disabilities and were full-time wheelchair users. I thought if I could get a group together we could get to know each other, bond and create a healthy and positive support system. I applied for a few grants and got a committee of friends together to help me plan, and Camp Discovery was born.

The first year was amazing! 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, and also move beyond it to create the life we wanted. That year, our camp activities included playing tennis, scuba diving, golfing, handcycling and more!

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.

In 2011, we moved the Camp to its current home, the Rocky Mountain Village (RMV), just outside of Empire, Colorado, about an hour from Denver.

The RMV is owned by The Easter Seals and is rented out to other organizations wanting to have a retreat experience. On the grounds of the facility there are activities, including horseback riding, rock climbing, zip lining, swimming and more, as well as lodging and a cafeteria. The best part is that it’s completely accessible, so all of us who are chair users have the opportunity to feel the freedom of the outdoors and the ability to participate in many new experiences.

Some of the sports we have offered at Camp in the past seven years are: cart-racing, kayaking, archery, handcycling, scuba diving, tennis, golf, rock climbing, horseback riding, yoga, sled hockey, and more. Additionally, we hold personal development sessions, do fun things like massages and manicures and above all, most importantly, create a wonderful bond between participants.

As we enter 2016, the Camp Discovery committee is hard at work planning the future of the event. Prior to this year, we partnered with a wonderful organization, the Challenged Athletes Foundation, based out of California, but starting this year the organization volunteers and myself have created our own non-profit called The Cycle of Hope. Camp Discovery will continue in its usual fashion and be the signature program of this new organization. Our long-term plan is to create multiple camps around the country and have the opportunity to serve many more women than we ever imagined.

We look forward to bringing new activities to our program this year and having the opportunity to share the GRIT Freedom Chair with participants.

If you are interested in attending Camp Discovery, please connect with us to stay informed about our camp dates. You can follow us on Facebook or check our current website - but stay tuned, as we are currently working to launch a new site at TheCycleofHope.org!

Tricia can be reached directly via email at ladyterp_td@hotmail.com

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The GRIT Freedom Chair is the most versatile chair on the market, designed from the ground up to handle any terrain. From trails to grass to snow, the Freedom Chair is built for you to push yourself. Born out of research at MIT, the Freedom Chair's patented easy-push levers reduce shoulder strain and put you in control of your mobility. Learn more about the GRIT Freedom Chair at www.gogrit.us