Access Challenge

Access Challenge is an annual wilderness expedition that provides an opportunity for people with significant physical disabilities to experience the beauty and wonder of British Columbia’s backcountry. That opportunity is made possible through the TrailRider, a multi-terrain vehicle designed specifically for BCMOS, that is powered by two or more able-bodied team-mates, or “Sherpas.”

Founded in 1985 by Sam Sullivan, the British Columbia Mobility Opportunities Society (BCMOS) has been working to expand the boundaries of accessibility for people with significant disabilities. The BCMOS vision is that hikers with disabilities will become a common sight on wilderness trails throughout British Columbia and, eventually, all of Canada. To this end, BCMOS has developed a series of unique summer hiking events, including the signature Access Challenge, the year’s most ambitious event.

Previous Access Challenge three-day events have taken as many as eight teams of hikers through parts of Manning Provincial Park (east of Vancouver) and to the peak of Garibaldi Provincial Park near Whistler/Blackcomb.

The Challenge

Each team consists of four or five members, one of whom will have a significant physical disability. Overcoming obstacles through teamwork and strategy constitutes the “challenge” part of Access Challenge.

Participants work together to navigate a designated wilderness route, overcoming obstacles along the way. The challenge takes place over several days. Teams use navigational tools provided, as well as other innovative equipment designed by the group.

There is a period of preparation prior to the challenge when all safety and emergency procedures are covered and environmental concerns addressed. Teams must practice “no trace” camping, resulting in minimal impact on the environment.

In the wilderness, common human needs begin to outweigh physical differences and everyone must work together to achieve a mutual goal. Discovering you can adapt and succeed in a wilderness environment helps to overcome the challenges of everyday life

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Goals and Objectives

To facilitate access to wilderness environments for people with significant physical disabilities.
To create an adventure expedition that combines competition with education.
To promote the message of integration through participation in a team environment.
To help people with disabilities develop self-confidence and self-esteem through challenging physical activity.
To show that wilderness access for people with disabilities does not have to alter or harm the natural physical environment.
To improve the overall quality of life for persons with significant disabilities.
To raise awareness of the capabilities and fortitude of people with disabilities.
To break down barriers.
To set a precedent for other interested parties.

Testimonials“This was the first time in 14 years that I really felt one with nature. Our teamwork on the mountain can be duplicated in office settings or anywhere else in society. Access Challenge should be mandatory for everybody!”

Roger B. Jones, Access Challenge participant. A star college basketball player in Halifax, a car accident left Roger a quadriplegic in 1986.“It [Access Challenge] allowed my spirit to get away somewhere it hadn’t been in awhile, and definitely needs to be. I felt like I was back home again. It gave me balance, and that’s important.”

Brad Jacobsen, Access Challenge participant. Now working for the B.C. Paraplegic Association at G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver, Brad became a quadriplegic in 1994 in a diving accident.

“The experience of getting back into the mountains, though bittersweet because of my dependence now on others, was uplifting. I found that being up on that mountain looking down at the view and feeling the breeze on my face made me feel ‘normal’ again. I felt less handicapped, more like myself. It was a great feeling!”

Alexis Chicoine, two-time Access Challenge participant. Alexis works at CTV in Vancouver. In 2000, while honeymooning in Venezuela, her tour bus went off the road, leaving her a quadriplegic.

“There is nothing else designed anywhere in the world that gets you into such inhospitable surroundings. I mean, why should that part of nature only be reserved for non-disabled people?”

Mike Nemesvary, Access Challenge participant. Mike is President and CEO of ‘Round the World Challenge, Ottawa. A former World Cup champion freestyle skier and Canadian junior trampoline champion, Mike injured his spinal cord in 1985 during a routine trampoline workout. In 2001, Mike became the first quadriplegic to drive around the world, raising $10 million for spinal cord research.

“Our team got along fabulously. Everyone had different expectations, but everyone was open-minded and flexible. Everyone’s willingness to learn how to pitch in and adapt was key to completing the expedition successfully.”

Kurt Turchan, Access Challenge volunteer.

“I had four volunteers, none of whom I’d ever met. When we all got together in that beautiful context it had a kind of holistic effect. Something amazing happens to people out there.”

Linda McGowan, four-time Access Challenge participant. Linda, a former nurse, lives in New Westminster. She was an avid hiker until she lost her ability to walk in 1981 due to Multiple Sclerosis. Prior to Access Challenge 1999, it had been 19 years since Linda had been on top of a mountain.