In April, a group of five people from the Spina Bifida community, embarked on an all-abilities hike through The Grand Canyon. The trip, dubbed The Grand Adventure, was a true physical challenge that taught the participants many important lessons. SBA spoke with each of this year’s participants to learn more about their experience training and participating in this one-of- a kind experience.
- What was the biggest surprise about the Grand Canyon Adventure?
Shannon Van Gorden (SVG) : That I did it. Honestly, it was hard. I cried going back up because I didn’t think I was going to make it. My legs hurt for like a week afterwards. I cried at the end because I hurt, but, I did it.
Eric Tobin (ET) : There were so many surprises! One of them has to be the overwhelming beauty of The Grand Canyon. I had seen it from the top so many times – but the moment you walk a few hundred feet into the canyon, the difference! Deep reds, yellows – green pops from every corner and the flowers sparkle in all their colors, ancient layers – each new level a new ecosystem, the wind and the birds soar; vastness that can only be described from the edge ever more the deeper you go. Not surprising is my urge to go back, go in farther and see it again.
Jody Larson (JL) : I was surprised at how challenging the “the rim” trail was! There was a lot of uphill, some of it quite steep. Some of the downhills were equally steep and, in some cases, more challenging than the uphill portions.
Shannon Bevans (SB) : That our group was the first group with physical disabilities that the organization had every dealt with.
Mary Helen Biller (SB) : The biggest surprise about the Grand Canyon Adventure was how accessible the trails were for people with disabilities and mobility challenges.
- What was the most rewarding experience of the trip for you?
SVG: I represented the parents of children with Spina Bifida. My hiking group included; our guide, Nolan, SBA’s Kristi Wass, Eric Tobin, a man with Spina Bifida, and myself. Watching Eric conquer the canyon was the most rewarding part for me. It inspired me. His sarcasm, positivity, and openness about his Spina Bifida helped me feel comfortable in asking him questions about his life and specifically his childhood. My daughter is five years old, and we’ve not had a plethora of challenges. However, we have had some, and it’s helpful to hear from an adult living with SB what their experience is like. That helped me understand what my daughter will go through in the future.
ET: The training, hands down. – Preparing to meet the physical demands of this trip. The more read, researched, listened on the group calls, a creeping fear, “I won’t be ready for this” – embarrassing to say, but that little voice was there! It pushed me out of bed earlier than my body would have liked. The reward? Finishing, knowing I could believe in myself, get this result – now, the confidence to do more and more.
JL: The most rewarding experience for me was to watch how dedicated the iConquer/Walking Connection team was in making sure our group had a positive experience! In planning our event, one of our guides used a wheelchair to experience the route himself so he knew what was expected of us. This same guide made sure that we “Rim rollers” had the experience of being in the one percent of all Grand Canyon visitors who go “below the Rim”.
SB: Being able to network and get to know other people in the SB community.
- What was the biggest challenge? How did you overcome it?
SVG: When I hiked the Grand Canyon, I was nearly five months postpartum from having my son. After giving birth, working out isn’t encouraged until about eight weeks, specifically with a c-section. Therefore, training wasn’t easy for me. Going downhill wasn’t as much of an issue as uphill was. I have been dancing all my life, and I felt every injury that I’ve ever had going uphill. However,I knew we all came there for a reason, and I needed to complete the hike and see that reason through. I needed to show my children that with hard work, positive thinking, and pushing through challenges they can do anything they set their mind to. I think a lot of my challenge while going uphill was thinking that I couldn’t do it.
ET: Leading up to the trip, the training was the most challenging. The biggest challenge on the actual hike days; was letting the fear of little issues, such as injuries and lack of bathrooms, get in the way. I focused on baby steps and little strides every step of the way, and 57 switch backs later I did it. I want to believe that is overcoming all of it, any of it.
SB: I didn’t really have many challenges other than my fear of heights.
MHB: The biggest challenge for me was, climbing back up the canyon. But, knowing I could go at a speed that was fit for me was a huge relief!
- What advice would you have for someone considering going on a future Grand Canyon Adventure or a similar hiking trip?
SVG: I would say, train! Go on hikes, wear a backpack when walking to simulate the weight of the pack you’ll carry. I wore my son to simulate that weight. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Make the experience about you and your accomplishments. You came for a reason, conquer it. Make sure you bring a lot of food. I ate more than I ever thought I would on this hike. Also, get out of your head. Take your time and remember to take in the splendor that you are surrounded with in the canyon.
ET: Believe you can do it and know it’s worth it. You will inspire you and many others no matter who they are. Practical advice? Train as hard as you can. I trained so much harder than I thought, but achievable nonetheless!
JL: Just do it! Enjoy it! Learn to use the hydration system before the event!
SB: Train properly at least six weeks in advance. Also, if you are a wheelchair user, use a proper wheelchair and equipment. You don’t want to ruin your everyday chair
MHB: Keep an open mind. You may discover that you can accomplish more than you ever thought you could.
We are so proud of everyone who took part in this year’s inaugural Grand Canyon Adventure. in the coming months, be on the lookout for information on how to participate in the next Grand Canyon Adventure, happening in Spring 2020.