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For disabled, Common Ground Outdoor Adventures says ‘no’ to ‘can’t’

May 13th, 2014 Posted in Arts and Life

By Noelle Johansen

LOGAN—When USU senior Jordan Pease moved with his family from Texas to Utah 10 years ago, his older brothers quickly picked up snowboarding. Though he wanted to snowboard, too, Pease couldn’t join them on the slopes.

Common Ground gets local people with physical disabilities off the couch and out of doors. Photo courtesy of Common Ground

Common Ground gets local people with physical disabilities off the couch and out of doors. Photo courtesy of Common Ground

His disability—arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, or AMC—curved his joints at birth, resulting in a hardening and shortening of muscle and connective tissue, preventing him from participating in many physical activities.

Or that’s what everyone thought until he found Common Ground Outdoor Adventures.

“I did my first event with Common Ground when I was 16 years old, if I remember right,” Pease said. “They took me skiing, something I have always wanted to do, something I have been told over and over again that I could not do. Not because people were trying to be mean, it’s just that obviously I can’t ski.”

He said he was lucky to have stubborn parents who refused to give up on getting him on the slope with the rest of the family. They helped him find Common Ground, a center that helps people with disabilities to participate in recreational activities like hiking, rock-climbing, snowshoeing and—like Pease—skiing.

Pease is now an intern at Common Ground, at 335 N. 100 East in Logan—while he finishes his degree in social work. He is also a husband and father, and says he goes skiing every weekend he can make time. He still hasn’t forgotten that first time on the mountain.

“The first time I ever went skiing was with my dad,” Pease said. “My dad is luckily this big, muscular guy, so I lucked out in that regard. So he was able to hoist me around everywhere. But when we get down the hill, I look back and my dad—he’s just in tears.”

Common Ground—dedicated to “provide life-enhancing outdoor recreational opportunities for youth and adults with disabilities”—was founded in 1993 and became a private non-profit organization in 1997.

Pease says what Common Ground does is life-changing.

“It changed my life,” he said. “It has changed every participant’s life that we’ve encountered.

“We’re dealing with a population that has been told over and over again that they can’t, that they’ll never be able to.” But “‘can’t” doesn’t mean anything at Common Ground, Pease said.

Bryce Patten has been a Common Ground supervisor for six years. He says Common Ground is about overcoming two main obstacles in the lives of participants:

“The first one is the physical challenges of being able to do this outdoor recreation,” Patten said. Common Ground helps participants overcome these by adapting recreational activities and equipment to their abilities.

“The second part is [that] most of our participants, because of their disabilities, are stuck in the low-income bracket,” Patten said. “So we also help them out financially.”

Many of those who come to Common Ground are eager—like Pease—to get outdoors and do what everyone else can do. But they can’t because of the cost, Patten said. “They’re stuck on a fixed income.”

So Common Ground, through donations and grants, help het them off the couch.

One example was the annual Common Ground sled dog race in Wyoming in February. Participants paid a reduced price to travel to Jackson Hole, where they went on dogsled tours.

Common Ground participants go to Jackson Hole every year for dog-sledding. Photo courtesy of Common Ground.

Common Ground participants go to Jackson Hole every year for dog-sledding. Photo courtesy of Common Ground.

Common Ground coordinates with Frank Teasley, owner of Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours, for the trip each year.

“This has been one of our longstanding accounts, Common Ground,” Teasley said. “They’re just great people. It’s something that my guides actually work their day off for because they believe in it as well.” He said Common Ground has become like family through returning each year and even knowing the dogs’ names.

“I think it’s a good relationship,” Teasley said. “My guides, even though they work their day off to get these folks out, it’s not a burden to them. They look forward to it.” Common Ground volunteers and staff have “huge hearts and huge souls,” he said.

Common Ground is run on volunteer force, with only three full-time staff members.

“We’re not able to do everything we do without the help of volunteers,” Patten said. Part of volunteering for Common Ground is an orientation on how to interact with people with disabilities, something many people are confused about, Pease said.

“It’s a population that’s oftentimes seen as tragically inspiring or pathetic—one of the two spectrums,” Pease said. “[T]o a lot of people, they’re either less than human or they’ve transcended humanity, and both are negative.

“We really at Common Ground try to help people understand that these are people like you and me,” he said. “They want to throw a conversation, they want to shake hands, they want to be referred to as people.”

He said overcoming recreational obstacles extends beyond the activities alone.

“We try to help the participants bring that mindset even outside of outdoor rec, and into their schooling and into their personal lives and to their home,” Pease said. “ [W]e just want people to try.

“If ultimately, at home, you need some kind of adaptive equipment or it’s just not working out the way you thought it would, that’s fine. But we just want you to try at Common Ground.”


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