From kayaking to bungee jumping, nothing seems to slow this group down.
The annual Spinal Cord Injury BC – Okanagan camping trip to Fintry Provincial Park took place last weekend. Wheelchairs strapped with beer and sodas could be seen in the distance, the smell of hot dogs and pulled pork sandwiches drifted throughout the park. Any passersby would be curious.
“Coming to Fintry is a great starter outing for some people,” said Anand Kannan, who attended Saturday’s event. “We do this one because it’s in between Vernon and Kelowna and then Kamloops is close, so it’s a midpoint and it’s very accessible so people feel comfortable.”
Kannan is also a board member of Accessible Okanagan, a separate, completely volunteer-based local group also aimed at uniting people with spinal injuries. He said that that group started somewhat serendipitously. He was in Vancouver doing rehab at GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre after a 2008 ATV accident that left him paralyzed. While there, he met James Hektner, founder of Accessible Okanagan, who was doing rehab for a recent shoulder surgery. After finding out they were both from Kelowna, Kannan asked to meet up once home, in the hopes to learn from Hektner — who had already been in a wheelchair for about 10 years and was quite capable.
“We really hit it off and so we started getting together and meeting up for coffee every week and within weeks, two turned into four, which turned into six and now, sometimes we have over 30 people every week in Kelowna in the spinal injury coffee group and we’ve considered that for the about nine years,” said Hektner. “Then we started expanding throughout the Okanagan to Kamloops, Vernon and Penticton.”
Among one of the first to join was Spinal Cord Injury BC – Okanagan project organizer Scott James.
“Over time, by getting the word out, more and more people started to come out and we discovered this place [Fintry Park] about five or six years ago and it’s a good event because they make everything wheelchair accessible for us and it makes it a really great event to have for the chairs,” said James.
The purpose of the annual camp event is to ease people into the group in a laid-back environment.
“We have a variety of events and people can choose what they come out to based on what suits you,” said Kannan.
From golf to tennis to rugby to camping — he said there’s something for everyone.
James, who lives in Vernon, said he was able to get involved from a similar chance meeting in Vernon with well-known Paralympian Sonja Gaudet. Through Gaudet and getting involved locally, he soon met both Kannan and Hektner. He said the group just organically grew.
“It’s a pretty special group. I’ve been around people who have been in other groups and they all say that there’s something special about this one,” said James. “We have pretty fun events and everyone gets along really well.”
He also explained that there are people of all ages, noting that while younger people who suffer spinal cord injuries may be able to recuperate faster, older tend to be less emotionally affected. He said it’s nice to have people with a variety of life experiences to lean on and learn from. Kannan agreed.
“You’re not going to get pampered here. If it’s your first time, we’re going to help you out and show you the ropes but you’re not going to get any “poor yous” because this is your life now,” said Kannan. “It’s all about having a sense of community and when you’re around a bunch of chairs, you feel like not everyone is just staring at you which also makes other “upright” people comfortable as well.”
“It’s great to have local meetings but it’s also really great to get everyone together through SCI BC,” said James. “Being able to get people together from all over the Okanagan is pretty awesome.”
Local groups get together weekly or monthly but outings like the one in Fintry Provincial Park occur several times a year. To sign up for the local group, visit https://www.facebook.com/accessibleokanagan/ and to sign up for the provincial group, visit https://sci-bc.ca. Everyone is welcome.
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