Las Vegas Sun

September 16, 2019

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Group helps make recreational activities accessible to those with physical disabilities

Adaptive Climbing

Miranda Alam/Special to Weekly

Ashlee Kalina climbs during an adaptive recreation meetup at Origin Climbing & Fitness in Henderson, Nev., on Sunday, June 23, 2019.

Ashlee Kalina suffered a spinal cord injury when she was just 2 years old—the result of an auto-pedestrian accident. She has used a wheelchair ever since. But despite her injury, Kalina grew up hiking and camping with her family, and now, at age 39, she launched an adaptive recreation group to bring these activities to other Las Vegans with physical disabilities.

“[Having] grown up here in the Valley, I have seen so many changes—things becoming more accessible, the Americans with Disabilities Act in the early ’90s. But over the years, I noticed there’s still limitations on what people with disabilities have access to,” Kalina says. “There’s opportunities for wheelchair basketball or wheelchair rugby, but in terms of outdoor recreation like adaptive rock-climbing sports or hand cycling, or even accessible equipment at gyms, it’s really limited.”

What is adaptive recreation?

Any kind of recreational activity that incorporates modifications or technology to assist individuals with physical disabilities.

After talking to others with spinal cord injuries, she decided to start her own group using meetup.com. It connects people for activity-focused groups and unites those with similar interests. The thought was, “Let’s get connected with the community and figure out what their interests are,” Kalina says.

After doing research, Kalina found that the City of Las Vegas offered some adaptive programs, but they were mostly for people with developmental disabilities rather than physical disabilities. (The city does offer adaptive aquatic programs, golf and a Paralympic sports club.)

So Kalina formed Las Vegas TRAILS, an acronym for Therapeutic Recreation and Independent Living Skills. Kalina, who went to graduate school at the University of Utah, says she was inspired by a TRAILS program there—the group had a number of activities, including adaptive skiing and hand cycling, swimming, climbing and more, she says.

Adaptive Climbing

Cassie Schneider climbs during an adaptive recreation meetup at Origin Climbing & Fitness in Henderson, Nev., on Sunday, June 23, 2019. Launch slideshow »

Las Vegas TRAILS has 47 members and has held two events so far—cosmic bowling and an adaptive climbing day clinic at Origin Climbing & Fitness. The response, she says, was overwhelmingly positive. “I wasn’t really sure if anybody would enjoy that or how it would be received, so now I’m excited to find out more of what’s available [to the community].”

TRAILS member Michelle Heinze says she’s excited to see adaptive activities getting more attention in Las Vegas. As a marriage and family therapist, Heinze also runs a support group for individuals with disabilities at a local rehabilitation center. “A group like this is important for people like that so they can see there’s still things you can do after you have an injury or disability.”

Heinze says she previously signed up for Meetup but found that most groups had activities that were difficult to participate in. “When you have a disability, [groups] are hard to join because of one reason or another. So I really was excited when Ashlee came up with this idea and decided to get it going. I think it’s something that’s really needed in the community. There’s not always a lot of social activities, especially active ones, for people with disabilities to do.”

Up next

The next Las Vegas TRAILS event is an Adaptive Climbing Clinic on August 24 at 10 a.m.

Go to meetup.com/Las-Vegas-TRAILS/events

Heinze says she’s interested in adaptive biking or adaptive parasailing, and hopes that eventually the group incorporates people without disabilities, too.

“I want it to be where we can all accept each other’s differences,” Heinze says. “Whether it’s a limitation or a mental thing, we all have challenges. I would like to incorporate that so it can be more inclusive. That’s the part that I’ve been looking for, the social aspect and being around people who are accepting.”

Kalina is on the lookout to find more activities to add to the TRAILS group and to raise awareness about adaptive recreation in other parts of the Valley. “There’s lots of hiking trails between Mount Charleston and Red Rock and Lake Mead and Valley of Fire, but there’s not very much available in terms of stuff that’s wheelchair accessible. One thing I’m hoping to accomplish with this group is to bring some public awareness to create some accessible trails in those areas.” Kalina adds that it isn’t just people with disabilities who would benefit from accessible trails—those with strollers and older individuals looking to hike in the fresh air would be able to enjoy the trails with more ease, too. “It’s an opportunity to not only help people get interested,” Kalina says, “but to bring some public awareness.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.