Adaptive recreation offers options for wide range of participants


Just about five years ago, Dan Boozan, killing time after his shift, struck up a conversation with a bartender who encouraged him to take up rock climbing.

Boozan’s response was automatic: “I can’t go climbing, I have a disability.”

Several years earlier, in 2011, a bicycling accident left a 29-year-old Boozan with a brain injury and nerve damage in his right shoulder. The injury restricted his ability to move his arm apart from limited movement of his hand and bicep.

But the bartender insisted that Boozan, who’d formerly been active outdoors, look into Paradox Sports. The nonprofit offers adaptive climbing classes and opportunities, which make climbing accessible for individuals with physical disabilities.

Boozan, who is now 37 and lives near Boulder, still had his doubts. After all, “disabled climbing seems kind of oxymoronic,” he said, laughing.

But he decided to give the sport a try and realized that wasn’t the case: “You can choose to embrace your disability and, really, you can still do everything you want to do.”

Soon, Boozan was climbing three to four days a week, going on weeks-long climbing trips alone and with friends, and becoming an ambassador for the nonprofit. Today, he is among those in the adaptive sports and activities community working to raise awareness about the opportunities available for individuals with disabilities. 

“Recreation is vital to everybody’s quality of life, and people with disabilities don’t always have those resources or know they have access to them,” said Leah Huffer, senior recreation supervisor for Denver Parks & Recreation.

Huffer helps oversee the department’s Adaptive Recreation division, which runs a host of recreational and cultural programs for individuals with disabilities — martial arts, cycling, camping and water-skiing, to name just a few.

The division also works with individuals to provide necessary preparations, such as strength training and adaptive equipment, for classes that run through the general Denver recreation department.

Throughout the metro area, cities and communities put on similar programs, including Lakewood Therapeutic Recreation, Aurora Therapeutic Recreation and South Suburban Therapeutic Adaptive Recreation (STAR). 

Centennial resident Rick Lorie, who has cerebral palsy, became involved with STAR three years ago. Since then, the 31-year-old has spent almost every Saturday morning bowling with the STAR group, which invites those with intellectual and physical disabilities to participate.

“I love to bowl, and I’ve got a lot of friends here,” said Lorie, who often attends the weekly event with his roommate, Tommy, and Lorie’s girlfriend, Elaine. 

For the group of friends, the Denver area has provided countless opportunities, he said, with the bowling club as one of his favorites. “Anybody who wants to come would love all of this,” he said.

Other recreational opportunities exist through organizations like Paradox Sports, which provides climbing adaptations such as seated harnesses or ropes for climbers to grab onto instead of the wall, local program manager Amy Bannon said.

“Any person of any ability is invited,” she said. “Even if you’ve never tried rock-climbing, it’s still an option. You take away a hobby that provides confidence, and the community is like glue.”

Golden resident and Paradox Ambassador Jess Sporte agreed. 

Sporte, 32, competed in wheelchair tennis in the area before finding Paradox in 2015. Shortly after, she began climbing competitively.

But for her, the highlight is the community around the sport: “My main reason to climb is the social aspect. Being able to help others into the world of climbing — no matter the limitation — is great.”

Boozan, too, is inspired by the way the sport pushes its athletes to set new expectations for themselves.

“This,” he said, “is for anyone with a disability who wants to try something new and change their own perception of what they can do.” 


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