Spreading the Joy of Adaptive Recreation
Meet three National Ability Center staffers who live for outdoor adventuring.
Park City’s National Ability Center (NAC) is known internationally for it’s life-changing adaptive recreation programs, ranging from skiing to mountain biking, river rafting, rock climbing, horseback riding and archery (Read: “Utah's Outdoors Are Wide Open for All Abilities"). But when you ask participants about their experience, they most often talk about the people — the compassion, encouragement, professionalism and genuine caring that comes from NAC staff and volunteers. Here are three examples.
When Madi Baumann races down a slalom course or rides 50 miles on a bike, her accomplishments aren’t to be taken lightly. Madi is legally blind from a near-fatal car accident.
The Washington state native began skiing in Whistler, British Columbia, when she was 2. After she became visually impaired at 11, she began skiing again with Whistler’s adaptive recreation program. An instructor encouraged her to find the National Ability Center. “I moved here by myself after I graduated from high school, fell in love with the state and never left.”
Madi joined the NAC ski team but soon learned her high level of vision didn’t fit into the paralympic category required to compete at the highest level. “I still consider myself as the team mascot, and I cheer from the top and get everyone pumped up and ready to race,” she says. “And I’m still on the mountain and get to ski.” (Read: “Adaptive Skiing: Youthful Inspiration”)
At 25, in addition to being an adaptive skier, cyclist and golfer, Madi works as the center’s reservations coordinator. “Once I started working here, the connection I felt to all the employees, the participants, the volunteers, was so strong,” she says. “Everyone cares so much. They just want the best for everyone.”
Her job is to get people registered for a ski lesson, mountain bike adventure, rafting trip or one of dozens of other year-round adaptive outdoor activities. (Read: "Fisher Towers River Rafting")
She loves being the messenger who gets to tell participants that they’re all set to experience a new adventure. She also enjoys “mission moments” where she joins students to share the joy and excitement of being on a bike for the first time, or skis for the first time, or hitting the target at the archery range.
“I tell people, ‘If you have any fear and trepidation, you’re never going to know until you try it,’” she says. “You might not be a biker, you might not be an archer, but there will be something else that you absolutely love. It just opens up a whole new world for you.”
Madi has never been one to hesitate when opportunity knocks. “For me, getting back into the adaptive world and sporting world has opened so many doors,” she says. “You gotta take the leap and give it a shot.” (Read: “When Turns Are About Adaptability, Not Disability”)
"I tell people, ‘If you have any fear and trepidation, you’re never going to know until you try it. You might not be a biker, you might not be an archer, but there will be something else that you absolutely love. It just opens up a whole new world for you."
– Madi Baumann
Military members are one of the fastest-growing segments of the NAC population, now about 30 percent of total participants. And there’s no one at the NAC who knows the military like Caitlin Bognaski.
Her father was in the Army for 41 years. He, her brother, sister and husband all attended West Point and served in the military afterwards. Her husband is still in the service. Caitlin was enrolled in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps at Wake Forest University, and received a commission. After college, she entered the Army and served in Afghanistan and Iraq for four and a half years.
She eventually left the Army as a captain, and moved to Park City when her husband got a new job in Utah. Her friend was on the military committee at the NAC, and introduced Caitlin to their programs.
She began working with military and overnight groups, where she’s seen how adaptive recreation programs help make positive differences for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, as well as other physical or emotional challenges. She was recently promoted to senior development manager for the center.
Her favorite part of the job is meeting participants and hearing about what they’ve overcome. “There’s not a day goes by that I don’t go home feeling inspired,” she says, adding that she advises newcomers that just about any activity can be made accessible.
Specialized equipment means that people can try different things. “There’s not one size that fits all,” she says. “They can come here and try some of our equipment and then go home and find that piece of equipment.” (Read: “TetraSki Offers Freedom and Independence for Skiers of All Abilities”)
Her three boys — ages 6, 9 and 10 — all beg to ride with the center’s handcyclist groups. “It’s great for them to be around people of all abilities,” she says, adding: “It’s not a bad day at the office when you get to go out and ride mountain bikes or go skiing with people.”
"There’s not a day goes by that I don’t go home feeling inspired."
– Caitlin Bognaski
When Maggie Gettys heads out on an adaptive mountain-bike ride, she has a sense of purpose. She doesn’t take leisurely cruises; instead, her riding style is closer to an all-out attack. That’s just who she is. It’s in her DNA.
A 2016 accident in college left her as a T-11 paraplegic, but that didn’t stop her. Instead, it just changed her trajectory.
Instead of a two-wheel mountain bike, now Maggie rides a Bomber handcycle in a prone, forward-leaning position, an aggressive posture that fits her demeanor. “When I first heard the word ‘paralyzed’ in the hospital, it made me mad,” she says. People wanted to know what kind of musical instrument she was going to start playing.
But the native North Carolina, experienced river guide and rock climber didn’t want to consider being sidelined. “So much of my life was centered around being outdoors, and I wasn’t ready to let that go,” says Gettys, who graduated from Appalachian State with a degree in recreation management.
She landed at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City for a master’s program in recreational therapy. Her studies eventually led to an internship and a part-time job at the NAC. “The internship will give me my certification as a rec[reational] therapist,” says the 24 year-old graduate student.
“I started at the NAC by volunteering and working with the rock-climbing program, which is what I had done a lot before my accident. That’s where my knowledge base was,” she says, adding that she wants to develop her administrative and management skills.
She admires the work of Steph Meyer, NAC’s recreation and adventure program supervisor, and hopes to work in that kind of role in the future. Along the way, Maggie’s making the most of her opportunity of working at the NAC. “I love working with all the different populations,” she says. “It’s just always different, and that’s what I really like about it.”
Her advice to anyone new to adaptive recreation? “Don’t be afraid to try it all,” she says. “You don’t know what sport you’re going to fall in love with until you try it. Be open-minded.” (Read: “Adapt, Access, Success”)
Utah's Outdoors Are Wide Open for All Abilities
Utah’s National Ability Center is known for changing lives through its adaptive recreation programs. Truth is, just setting foot on the center’s 26-acre ranch can feel transformative.