Push America Challenge: Yellowstone Adventure

It is moments like this that serve as a reminder to what is possible in a world surrounded by perceived limitations. As Push America reflects on the growth of Push America Challenge and the Enabled Athlete Program, we are immersed in small momentsÑlike the quote previously mentionedÑthat speak volumes about the lives we are impacting and gap we are bridging in society. This past July, Push America Challenge hosted an event with Wilderness Inquiry in Yellowstone National Park. A small group of athletes with and without disabilities came together to make an inaccessible environment accessible through teamwork. The following narrative is from Axel Holm, a recent graduate from Iowa State University. Holm’s account of his experience is just one more representation of the significant impact in Push America’s newest program.

Journey of Hope and Build America have become two very successful and important stitches within the fabric of Push America. Having participated in both of them myself, I can speak highly of the unforgettable experiences and amount of humility that members of Pi Kappa Phi are able to gain from participating. Journey of Hope preaches about the empathy and mental strength that goes into cycling from coast to coast, all the while gaining fuel to burn from the people you meet along the way.

Build America offers the chance to really get close to the people who are benefitting from our desire and willingness to make a more accessible world. But there is a relatively new creation that is growing within our national philanthropy that gives its participants a whole different perspective and appreciation for the abilities of all people.

During the days of July 17-22, 2013, 11 Push America Challenge participants took Yellowstone National Park head on with our Enabled Athlete Program. Here is a story of one of our team’s adventures.

After about an hour drive of winding through the forests and switchbacks of Yellowstone National Park, our team had made it from the campsite in Grant Village to Firehole Canyon Drive. Traffic dropped down to a gradual speed of fifteen miles an hour to climb the eight percent incline. Any other time, motorists may find themselves frustrated when moving so slowly, but that is not true in this canyon. It provides for more time to experience, and be surrounded by the features that make up the mountainside, a wonderful place to take in a 360 degree view. The area is surreal, majestic and speckled with pine trees that tell tales of past historic fires and future generations of the awesome power of nature. While in the Firehole River Valley, this is where we proved that Push America’s Enabled Athlete Program truly does give people the opportunity to find their personal summit.

Once we found an open spot along the cliff side, we parked and exited our fifteen passenger vans in awe and ready to conquer whatever trail of obstacles lay before us. Our goal was to swim in The Firehole River, so named because it collects all the runoff from Yellowstone National Park’s geothermal geysers and springs (the water in the river can reach upwards of 86 degrees!).

To reach it we would have to scale down a steep and rocky path. The group of us collected our water bottles, towels, life jackets, and one of our team members, Luanne, brought along her mobility cane.

“Ok, about twenty-five feet from us now, fifteen, ten, five… Alright Luanne, we’re going to start descending this steep incline.”

“I’m ready for it.”

Luanne was one of the Enabled Athletes on our team. She has partial blindness, and she wanted to experience Yellowstone by catching glimpses of the wildlife and ‘keeping up with the young’uns and all our activities.’

Little did Luanne know what she was getting herself into that day.

“Feel just ahead of you, there’s a good foot ledge off to your right. Nailed it. Good.”

“I’ve got it, I’ve got it.”

Firehole Canyon Drive is a very popular part of the park. People come packed in their RVs and SUVs for a chance to climb down into the valley and swim. Scattered rocks create ledges for sitting or leaping off of and into the steady current of the river below. Visitors can hear a chatter of all sorts of dialects, all excited due to the make-up of the scenery and their current activity.

“Two more steps down and there’s another group of people camped out. Let’s move around to the left. Here, good.”

“I can hear ’em. I hear the river too. Are we close to the water’s edge?”

“One more big step over that root… You got it! Let’s do some swimming!”

Now, when swimming in Firehole River, it is not a simple pool for lounging about and sipping on a sweet tea. Nor is it a lazy river. Instead the current pulls its users at about the strength of an infinity pool, down stream. People of all ages and abilities fight against the force of the water to reach a highest possible point and then glide down on the theme park ride created by mother nature. We explained this to Luanne, and she geared up to the challenge.

“Ok Luanne, this is going to take some strategy.”

“What’s the plan?”

There is no way someone would be able to swim directly into the current and win the fight. The river zigged and zagged through a medley of jutting rock faces that accelerated the current in some spots and relaxed it in others. We decided it would be best to use the areas behind the rocks and crisscross from bank to bank in order to get breaks from the pull of the river.

“Luanne, we’re going to be cutting across the current at angles to make our way up the river. From where we are right now the water is flowing left to right.”

“OK! How far do I have to swim?”

“About twenty feet. Just keep coming to our voices and we’ll snag you up!”

We moved as a unit back and forth up stream, all the while keeping Luanne in the middle of the group. Other Yellowstone travelers saw our group and gave a hand when they could as well. They would point out good handholds on the rocks, or suggest spots to aim for to collect ourselves. We snaked across the river six different times before we reached a point when the rocks were too plentiful and jagged to continue upstream.

Then we watched all the people before us leaping into the water and enjoying the ride! We pulled ourselves out of the river and made our way to the edge of a low, flat rock. A few of us sprang in one by one and floated on easy street after putting forth so much effort to reach the top. Then it came to be Luanne’s turn.

“I’ve found the edge with my toes. I just leap straight out, as far as I can?”

“That’s right! The rock we’re on is level with the water, and it’s plenty deep, you won’t hit bottom.”

“Three, two, one…”

From the moment that her feet hit the water, until the others caught Luanne downstream, she did not stop laughing.

Later, on the last night of the trip, our temporary tribe sat around the biggest fire we had created to date, and shared closing thoughts on what the Yellowstone Adventure had meant to us. We were in love with all the sites we were able to take in; we appreciated the food and good weather too, but we agreed the best part of our time together was how great of a team we made. The trip was about setting personal goals and achieving them through teamwork. Luanne left us with some parting thoughts.

“I’m a do-er. For my whole life so far, and for the rest of it, I plan to be constantly on my feet and doing something. Thank you to all of you for pushing yourselves and others to find our personal summits.”

Push America does it again. Each event is so spectacular in its own way. They each teach different lessons on viewing life through an unfamiliar perspective, and in turn, it molds us all into better people. Thank you to all the participants in any Push America activity. I am so very proud to have an organization like this created and still thriving, thanks to the hands of people within our fraternity of Pi Kappa Phi.

Push America Challenge (PAC) enables athletes of all abilities to realize their full potential by pushing the limit to what is thought possible. Through PAC’s fully inclusive sporting events, Push America aims at bringing athletes with and without disabilities together through outdoor recreation to live healthy and active lives. It is through inclusive recreation that Push America believes a unique understanding occursÑathletes with disabilities are able to push beyond perceived barriers, both internal and external, while athletes without disabilities gain a better knowledge of possibilities and the benefits of outdoor recreation for all involved. Push America Challenge events include signature endurance events, group wilderness trips and personal challenges created and established by those eager to showcase human ability in their own communities. If you are interested in joining Push America Challenge on its next big adventure, contact pushamericachallenge@pushamerica.org or visit www.pushamerica.org for more information.