Inaugural CPISRA Adult Recreation Camp a Huge Success
The inaugural international CPISRA outdoor recreation camp was held from the 23rd – 27th September 2019 in the Lake District, UK. Individuals from England, Scotland, Wales and Portugal came together for 5 days of outdoor activities, personal development and friendship making!
Hannah Dines, Para Cyclist, RaceRunner and Freelance Journalist wrote about her experience at the camp, and how some of her expectations and preconceptions were changed through the medium of outdoor adventure…
Words by Hannah Dines, Images by Luke Wilkes
Lauren gives an experienced wiggle. She’s facing Mikey, armed with a welly boot and it just slides on, with no resistance. That’s not normal for wellington boots and legs like Mikey’s. I look at her like she’s an astronaut for Nasa’s space programme. “Lauren,” I say… “you’re not just an adventure camp coordinator… are you?”. It turns out Lauren, though being an exceptionally gifted organiser and secretarial superhero, is a fully qualified orthotist. That is, she is one of the legion of clinicians who take legs that can’t walk and adapt them, adding bits of plastic on the outside and Velcroing it all together to create ambulation.
“It amuses me how often strength is dismissed in cerebral palsy. Strength is independent to motor dysfunction so you can have both very shaky muscles and very strong ones.”
That’s the theme of this whole camp really- we dangle and splash, are hoisted and secured but we do all the activities of your average adventure camp with a bit of added plastic here and some Velcro strapping there. Sometimes there are surprise activities like a last minute plank competition where Sophie, who spends her days in an electric wheelchair, or Kirsty who uses a walking frame both lift themselves up by hands, elbows and ankles, tense their core and hips and hold a perfect ‘plank’ that would go down well in a muscle-tee gym. Sam, who pushes himself in a wheelchair and has significant spastic diplegia wins the competition. He holds a plank for more than 3 minutes beating Andy, who has mild cerebral palsy and has hiked to Everest base camp, by 20 seconds. None are Paralympians and most do not do regular training. All would have been excluded from a mainstream PE class as kids and left out of the Center-parcs school trip. It amuses me how often strength is dismissed in cerebral palsy. Strength is independent to motor dysfunction so you can have both very shaky muscles and very strong ones. Yes, our nightly game of table tennis is comical but more so because Mikey is an actual comedian. Amongst all the one-liners he is also the one you can count on for a rally, if you watch out for the athetosis faking shots right and left. He is also a one man power house in the back of the canoe and we sprint off ahead of the others.
When we are let loose on the high-ropes course I myself have to put away everything I assume about cerebral palsy. Graham and Dan who both use electric wheelchairs because of badly behaved arms and inwardly rotating legs are both ‘hip fixers’ with an incredibly restricted range of motion. Once dangling 10m above the ground though, they step down wobbly planks and lilypad across stones with all the balance in the world, as if this was their usual experience of walking to the shops. I walk without aids in daily life but I try the wobbly plank holding onto the instructor with both hands and lose my balance immediately. I do much of the course ziplining along with my arms, my legs stuck out awkwardly refusing to balance or coordinate in such challenging conditions. Kirsty also does this and I see certain patterns- we walk with our bums out and can’t balance but are great at using our arms. Tom, who is also a walker balances for most of it until he slips and is held aloft by his harness and upon finishing the first course decides to call it a day.
Leo, who is the only one of us to opt into the orienteering part of the trip has legs that are strong enough to complete it at a run and is the first onto the challenging high-ropes section. I am maybe too gleeful when I find him stuck and growling in the middle of a vine swinging activity. He has to be rescued and from then on we share a little bond. We motivate and support each other through each of the following challenges so fervently, that we even involve Tom in the group hug when we manage to complete it though he hadn’t actually been there. Team Strong.
There is canoeing and sailing and firebuilding, a ‘bring your own wheels’ wheelchair rollercoaster, the zipline and an activity called ‘The Drop’ in the sportshall where we are hoisted to roof and dropped. It feels just like it sounds. There’s a quiz and melted marshmallows and beer from a makeshift bar in the evenings. There are fancy soft adjustable seats or beanbags which take the strain off core muscles for canoeing called ‘Aquabacks’ and extra ropes for wheelchairs. With a few adjustments everyone can do everything.
Over a lunch time I’m sitting with Andy and Claire and Tom. We’re all in our twenties or thirties and we all see the new generation of kids with cerebral palsy getting access to this new, unrestricted, accessible lifestyle just when they need it, when their muscles are developing. Before we can get too bitter we realise that here we are on our first ever adventure camp. As the world changes for the youngest generation it also changes for us. You’re never too old for an accessible adventure camp. We swap numbers and facebooks and plan what we could do next.