Reeve Spotlight: Higher Ground

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on March 30, 2017 # Quality of Life

When a local flight school wanted to create an opportunity for an adaptive paragliding experience, they reached out to Higher Ground, a Ketchum, Idaho, nonprofit dedicated to enhancing quality of life through inclusive therapeutic recreation and education for people of all abilities.

Started in 1999 as Sun Valley Adaptive Sports, the organization was rebranded as Higher Ground in 2012 and has slowly built its programs to offer adaptive sports opportunities and resources for people living with both physical and/or cogitative disabilities.

“We started with a winter sports focus but always had the idea to do more than skiing,” said Higher Ground Director of Development Tyra MacGuffie. “Creating the Higher Ground Flight School was an exciting opportunity.”

To secure the funds needed for adaptive paragliding, Higher Ground turned to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Quality of Life Grant program.

“We received a $10,000 grant in 2011 which paid for the equipment and program fees for five participants in the inaugural flight school,” said MacGuffie.

All five participants achieved their Level 1 Certification as recognized by paragliding’s governing body, the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA). Each participant spent 10 hours of wing training on the ground and executed several tandem flights.

“Possession of a Level 1 Certification will allow them to pursue paragliding individually and puts them in position for solo flight certification levels,” said MacGuffie. “One participant developed such a passion for paragliding that he has since enjoyed over ten solo flights – truly an incredible accomplishment.”

Although the program was an overall success, the Higher Ground staff felt like the flight school was a bigger opportunity than the resources the organization had available.

“One of the instructors and owner of Eagle Paragliding in Santa Barbara, California, came forward and offered to take on the project of building upon the achievements of Higher Ground Flight School to introduce more people living with paralysis to the thrill of paragliding,” said MacGuffie. “While we are disappointed to not have the staff and capacity to grow the Flight School internally, we couldn’t be more thrilled to have been a part of pioneering such a great new program.”

In 2013, Higher Ground reapplied to the Reeve Foundation to request support for a back country bike camp designed to develop accessible recreational opportunities in the Idaho backcountry and increase the physical skills and mountain biking abilities for individuals living with paralysis.

“The Higher Ground Back Country Bike Camp was successful in providing an atmosphere where boundaries are limitless for people living with paralysis,” said MacGuffie. “All six of the participants increased their mountain biking skills over the course of the camp and developed a love for the back country.”

The $6,350 Reeve Foundation grant was used to purchase Higher Ground’s first adaptive mountain bike handcycle and athlete journals for the four-day overnight event. In addition to mountain biking, the camp included a dip in Idaho’s natural hot springs, journaling, fishing, and paddle boarding.

“The participants had the opportunity to access terrain that was previously inaccessible for individuals living with paralysis, which fostered a new found sense of independence and eagerness,” said MacGuffie. “The event also generated interest among other perspective participants and helped increase awareness throughout the community about the abilities of individuals with spinal cord injuries.”

After the camp, two participants purchased their own handcycles and joined Higher Ground’s weekly Monday night rides. With so much positive feedback, the camp has become an annual summer event. Now riders can choose between two different camps; a more technical and challenging terrain or an intermediate, non-technical ride.

“The Reeve Foundation was the cornerstone for creating this camp in the first place,” said MacGuffie. “They took a chance on us to try something new. Many times, people won’t support a program without measureable results but because of the opportunity the Reeve Foundation gave us to build the camp and make it a success, we could reach out to others for funding and continue to expand the camp opportunities.”

Higher Ground used the videos and testimonials from the first campers to share the participants’ life changing stories and raise funds to purchase additional handcycles to ensure the future success of the program.

“Higher Ground’s Back Country Bike Camp was made possible by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation and has become an instrumental stepping stone for what has come to be one of our most successful yearly programs for participants with spinal cord injuries,” said MacGuffie. “The inception of the back country bike camp, the positive outcomes, and now expanded program, exemplify our tagline of “Achieving New Heights through Adaptive Sports” and for that we are eternally grateful.”