When Calgarian Amanda Timm suffered a T6 spinal cord injury after a skiing accident in 2011, she became withdrawn, self-conscious, and refused to play sports anymore, thinking she would look “weird” in her wheelchair.
Now, 2 1/2 years and three Live It! Love It! camps later — boy, how things have changed.
“When I first came (to the camp) I was the little scared girl in the corner and didn’t think I could do any activities or anything,” Timm said Friday (July 12) from the Whistler Bungee bridge overlooking the Cheakamus River. “It totally changed me completely, and now I’m super outgoing and will jump off a bridge whenever.”
Timm has become something of an unofficial ambassador for the Live It! Love It! Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to promoting outdoor recreation opportunities for the disabled. Since participating in her first camp two summers ago, Timm has rekindled her adventurous spirit, and will take part in the Canada Games in sailing this August, and she credits the foundation with motivating her to compete.
Seven participants with spinal cord injuries were in Whistler last weekend for the foundation’s annual three-day summer camp. Along with bungee jumping — wheelchair and all — 160 feet towards the glacier-fed water, campers participated in a variety of activities, including canoeing, kayaking, art and more. All the camp costs are fully subsidized by Live It! Love It!, who rely on fundraising campaigns and sponsorship to cover expenses.
All of this summer’s campers have suffered a spinal cord injury within the last five years, which is by design, according to the foundation’s vice-president, 2010 Paralympic silver medalist Josh Dueck.
“For the most part they’re all newly-injured, which is really good — we get to hit them hot as they’re entering this new world of managing paraplegia or quadriplegia,” said Dueck, who suffered his own spinal cord injury in a skiing accident in 2004. “If we can get them early, we can instill a good vision or this passion towards being adventurous and not being limited by your physical body. I think if you spend too long in a wheelchair the idea of being limited can really calcify and you get stuck.
“You just get stuck, and that’s not necessary. We have a ton of potential whether we’re able-bodied or not.”
Dueck has been involved since the foundation’s inception in 2011, and has witnessed the exceptional growth campers experience just from getting out of their comfort zone for a little while.
“This is a new group of campers, and in the last 24 hours we’re already seeing people come out of their shells in terms of how they interact, socialize, communicate and perhaps get thrown off a bridge,” he said.
The theme of this year’s camp is ‘Creating Change’ and Dueck said it’s important that the foundation offers a healthy balance of activities to ensure participants get the most out of their time. In the early going, Dueck said the camps were primarily “adrenaline-based” but this year includes things like yoga with quadriplegic instructor Mary-Jo Fetterly, art workshops with Whistler’s own Chili Thom, cooking classes and daily meditation.
“Giving them an opportunity to write, reflect, do yoga and meditation helps it really sink in that they’re capable of far more than maybe they thought when they first came to the camp,” Dueck said.
Along with a range of other activities and trips, Live It! Love It! typically hosts two camps a year, one in winter, and one in the summer that’s usually held in Whistler. For co-founder Izzy Lynch, it makes sense to keep coming back to the resort with world-class adaptive sports facilities and local businesses that are fully supportive to the foundation’s work.
“The companies and tour operators we work with are so supportive and so welcoming every year,” she said. “It’s kind of a mission taking 12 people in wheelchairs who are mostly quadriplegics canoeing or things like that, and everyone’s so willing to put in the extra effort, so we really appreciate how awesome the community of Whistler is to do this.”