Big Red is rockin’ as funds are raised for new van

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
Durango - 08/12/12- Riley Soden, left, and Jenny Hardy, center, talk with Ann Marie Meighan, program director with Adaptive Sports Association, during a fundraiser to replace associations Old Red van on Sunday afternoon at Edgemont Picnic Grounds. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald Durango - 08/12/12- Riley Soden, left, and Jenny Hardy, center, talk with Ann Marie Meighan, program director with Adaptive Sports Association, during a fundraiser to replace associations Old Red van on Sunday afternoon at Edgemont Picnic Grounds.

Saying the Durango Adaptive Sports Association gives people with cognitive and physical disabilities opportunities for outdoor recreation is only telling a small part of the story.

What it really does is give confidence, restore the spirit and expand horizons.

On Sunday, at the retirement party for Big Red, the organization’s multi-person handicapped-accessible van, folks had a chance to see Adaptive Sports’ new video highlighting the work it does in both the winter and summer months. The event included brats (the fixin’s thanks to the Lost Dog Bar & Lounge) and beer (courtesy of Carver Brewing Co.). Also helping out were Durango Party Rental, Coca-Cola Durango, Norton’s Catering, Edgemont Picnic Grounds and Karen Esser, baker of fabulous brownies.

More than 100 people saw the smiling faces, the falls and the getting back up to try again, the joy of success and the beauty of the outdoors appreciated as never before.

I got the chance to sit down with the ASA crew, including Executive Director Tim Kroes, office manager Lee Hagar, Program Director Ann Marie Meighan and Assistant Program Director Iris Gardner, to hear how the summer is going at ASA.

They’re having the biggest summer yet, with more than 300 student days. Clients have enjoyed fishing, canoeing, kayaking, camping, river rafting, paddle boarding, water skiing and cycling – a cornucopia of activities taking participants not only locally but around the area. Most outings have been wait-listed.

Meighan said the organization has some new collaborative partners. ASA is planning weekly excursions with clients of Community Connections, including residents at Holly House. And it has helped SOS Outreach offer its first summer programs to at-risk youth.

After taking a group of kids on an overnight camping trip, Meighan said the best part was how jazzed they were after working on the high ropes-challenge course.

“First, you’d hear someone say they couldn’t do a challenge and were going to quit,” she said. “Then all the rest would be encouraging them to try again, they could it. Then they’d end up telling us how to do it. That’s what you want to see.”

Perhaps some of their most memorable moments happened while working with the Wounded Warrior Project. This summer, Meighan and Gardner took two trips, including one all-female veterans, on five-day raft trips down the Colorado River.

Many of the vets were dealing with what Meighan calls the signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a combination of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.

Adaptive sports takes small groups – the largest was seven people – so everyone has to take ownership and participate.

“They realize they’re not just passengers,” Meighan said. “It’s a stretch for everyone. But they can also be part of a team again.”

For many returning veterans, the challenge is going from the highly structured environment of the military to a civilian life where nothing is structured. The river trip gives back some of that structure in a relaxed way.

Many have “trust issues,” Meighan said, which one can certainly understand, as they’re coming from places littered with roadside bombs and where danger can as easily arrive from someone wearing the uniform of a friendly.

At the last night of the male veterans group’s adventure, they had dinner at Gazpacho New Mexican Restaurant, and they gathered in the parking lot afterward. From Day 1, when they didn’t know each other, coming from all over the country, to the end on Day 5, they had become a tight unit.

“I never thought we’d be hugging it out,” one said, but there they were, in a big group hug.

The all-woman group had breakthroughs, too.

At the airport as they were leaving, one female vet asked, “Does anyone else feel a lot stronger this week?”

Meighan remembered one woman marvelling at the beauty of the stars.

“I thought she must live somewhere like New York City, where you can’t see the stars at night,” Meighan said. “Then, I found out she lived in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania. But she came back (from the war) so afraid of the dark, she didn’t go out at night. She sent me a text after she got home telling me she was sitting out on the porch looking at the stars with her husband.”

Meighan and Gardner have two more big excursions planned for the summer, Big Red’s final trips. They’re in Telluride right now, camping and rock climbing with the help of the Telluride Adaptive Sports Association. Longtime ASA client Bradley Jones is excited to be giving the group a historic tour of his hometown.

And during Labor Day weekend, they’re continuing the tradition of a “capstone” trip, taking only locals on an outing to Moab. Two days of rafting on the Colorado and a day of hiking at Arches National Park, which has wheelchair-accessible camping areas and trails will create more unforgettable memories and give them more stories to tell.

The quest continues to fund Big Red’s retirement, which means raising enough money to purchase his successor. Generous donors, including First National Bank of Durango, which is making it a two-year capital project, have raised $36,700, with a goal of $50,000. It would be ideal to get the money in and the van purchased before the winter season starts.

Tax-deductible contributions may be sent to ASA, P.O. Box 1884, Durango, CO 81302.

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Some of these birthday celebrants are getting ready for school to start while others are looking back on school days of yore – David Freienmuth, PhilPatterson, Jake Forsythe, Zach Holguin, Isabel Bohachevsky, GarrettKrispin, Zoe Larsen, Don Southworth, Kevin Jones, Bonnie Rossmiller, Jonathan Wince, Raiana Ollier, Eileen Stastny and Fred Riedinger.

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Congratulations go to Jason Freiberger, whose mom, Katy Freiberger, talked him into buying $200 worth of raffle tickets for the Music in the Mountains Wine Raffle. One of those tickets won him the $2,400 gift certificate at Star Liquors, courtesy of Stan Crapo.

Now, you owe her a really, really good bottle of wine, Jason.

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Gardens are abloom for the anniversaries of David and Cheryl Freienmuth, John and Sally Folk, Robert and Ruth Wagner, Fred and Elizabeth Whitehurst, Jeff Huber and Tami Bradshaw, Fred and ShirleyGale, Paul and Marty Shepard, Dana and Stephanie Strength, Gary and Tina Trotter, Charley and Sherry Wilmoth, Tom and Chris Spahr and Steve and Lou Hudson.

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