What: No Barriers Summit
Where: Telluride, various locations
More info: nobarriersusa.org
When Boulder resident and University of Colorado alum Kirk Williams flew over the handlebars of his mountain bike four years ago, he instinctively knew how serious the accident was.
He damaged three vertebrae and his spinal cord that day, but Williams said he knew it wouldn’t be the last time he rode a bike.
Soon after rehabilitation, Williams went looking for new ways to explore the outdoors — either in his wheelchair or through modified sports equipment. He took up off-road handcycling and attended the 2011 No Barriers Summit, an outdoor sports festival offering clinics, workshops and demonstrations of adaptive technologies, The summit is held at a different place around the country every two years.
Williams will return to the No Barriers Summit this year, which takes place Thursday through Sunday in Telluride. Some of the summit’s clinics and workshops include adaptive rock climbing, paddlesports, yoga, hiking, cycling, photography, painting, tennis and golf. Speakers at the summit include renowned journalist Bob Woodruff, who was wounded while reporting in Iraq, and amputee Kyle Maynard who recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.
For someone who wants to try adaptive sports for the first time, the summit is a sampling of what’s possible, Williams said. And even for veteran adaptive athletes, it can provide inspiration for trying new things.
“Adaptive sports are really special to the person, depending on the person, what they can do, what they want to do,” Williams said. “You have a chance to really almost window shop, if you will, what sport you want to try and how you’re going to figure out how to do it.
“On top of that, you’re seeing all these other people doing it with maybe similar disabilities, maybe completely opposite.”
Though the summit caters to people with cognitive and physical disabilities, executive director David Shurna said the event is open to anyone who wants to live “without barriers.” About half of all summit participants live with some sort of disability, he said.
“The summit is really about shifting mindsets,” he said. “This idea that no matter what barriers you face, you can live a life of purpose. We’re trying to instill this spirit of no matter our barriers, we can still lead full, active and meaningful lives.” Williams said he thinks of the summit as a networking event for people who want to try new sports, but aren’t sure what kind of adaptive options are out there.
He’ll be demonstrating his new photography business, which is still in the works, which uses a flying camera to film and photograph different events. Williams directs the flying camera with a controller from his wheelchair.
He said he plans to officially launch this business, Birds Eye Optics, soon. Getting back to work is one of the final tasks Williams said he wants to complete since his accident.
Williams had finished his undergraduate degree in sociology at the University of Colorado in May of 2009, the same year as his accident. He moved to Lyons after graduation and was riding Hall Ranch when he fell off his bike.
“Complete freak accident,” he said. “Like trip over your shoelace kind of crash.”
In the four years since his accident, Williams has actively maintained his outdoor lifestyle. He drives his modified tan-colored van everywhere, including to play rugby and water ski with the City of Boulder’s EXPAND programs. Williams rides his handcycle about three times a week.
He consults with a fellow No Barriers Summit participant, Jake O’Connor, who founded Reactive Adaptations three years ago. O’Connor builds off-road handcycles and other adaptive technologies in Crested Butte, and often asks for Williams’ feedback. O’Connor ships his bikes all over the world, and produces around 20 handcycles each year.
The two have collaborated on different challenges, like how to create hand pedals that utilize a person’s wrist and arm strength if they don’t have motor control in their hands. O’Connor will bring several of his handcycles to the summit and will lead clinics on adaptive cycling.
“What’s really cool about No Barriers is they have these clinics where you can actually get on a handcycle for half a day and try it out,” O’Connor said. “You can go fishing instead of just looking at a fishing rod. It’s more hands on.”
–Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.