Reeve Foundation story of impact: Daring Adventures

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on November 15, 2017 # Quality of Life Grant Spotlight, Travel

“We focus not on the hurdles, but rather the ways that we will jump over them,” said Brenna Bean, Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist and Adaptive Recreation Program Coordinator at Daring Adventures. Living with a spinal cord injury since the age of 18, Bean knows first-hand how to incorporate her life with a disability into the non-profit’s outdoor adventure mission.

A dynamic organization with a unique history, Daring Adventures began hosting river rafting trips in 1991 as River of Dreams, a City of Phoenix Parks & Recreation adaptive recreation service program. Due to the economic downturn, the city shuttered the adaptive recreation program in 2011. But thanks to a group of committed volunteers, Daring Adventures has relaunched and grown under a new name as an independent organization.

“Daring Adventures offers numerous additional outdoor adventures—kayaking, hiking, cycling, camping, cross-country skiing, backpacking, sled hockey, and more—so that all people may continue to enjoy the outdoors in a meaningful way,” said Executive Director Jerry Ketelhut. “Our programs are both challenging and rewarding—focusing on personal growth and empowerment by taking adults outside of their comfort zones and showing them that, despite adversity, they are capable of doing things they may have never thought possible.”

In 2015, Daring Adventures served more than 1,500 participants and hosted more than 100 activities. To fulfill their mission, the organization relies on a wide variety of adaptive equipment, but after 20 years of use, their four “safari wheelchairs” began to show major signs of wear.

“For people who use a wheelchair, old chairs are not good; they are too heavy and limit independence,” said Ketelhut. “We worked with a designer to outline all the adaptations we would need in a wheelchair for all the different terrains we encounter on our adventures. Then we applied for a Reeve Foundation Quality of Life grant.”

In late 2015, Daring Adventures received a Quality of Life grant to order two customized safari wheelchairs. Along with other local and regional events and programs, the new wheelchairs were used this summer on an 11-day Grand Canyon river rafting trip. The 226-mile river trip included a group of 25 people, 16 participants living with a disability (including three with spinal cord injuries), six volunteers, one nurse, and two Daring Adventures staff.

“Our very first river trip in 1991 got a lot of publicity and was dubbed as the second most historic passage next to John Wesley Powell’s Grand Canyon discovery expedition,” said Ketelhut. “For anyone facing a challenging trip like this, there is a lot to consider, but for someone who uses a wheelchair, it can seem like an overwhelming obstacle to overcome. Our focus remains on what they can do, not what they can’t.”

Bean agrees, “On a trip like this, you quickly understand that the focus is not on the disabilities, but rather on the diversity and strength of the group because of these differences. The thing about the river is that it brings us all together. Being so remote, a mile below civilization, with nothing more than a single dry bag and backpack to carry your things—we are stripped of our disparities and judgement.”

Both Ketelhut and Bean are quick to point out that, thanks to the support of the Reeve Foundation, individuals in the new safari chairs had maximum independence over the older model safari chairs.

“The new wheelchairs allow participants to be more independent in camp instead of always relying on others,” said Ketelhut. “The need is twofold—first to provide the beauty of nature to individuals with disabilities and second, to shatter myths about what people with mobility impairments are able to achieve. We are so thankful and appreciative to have this incredible resource for our programs.”

Of course, improved mobility is only one piece of the trip experience.

“Each person was ready for a rare adventure, but few understood how deeply the trip would truly impact them,” said Bean. “When I talk about the trips, I often say: “There are a million stories to tell, but no words that can truly explain it.’ These moments were meant to be felt and are impossible to explain.”

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.