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Rocky Mountain Adaptive reaches milestone of breaking down walls

BOW VALLEY – Rocky Mountain Adaptive (RMA) isn’t putting a limit on anything.
Sit skier Hanna Chilson enjoys fantastic conditions Sunshine Village Sunday (May 19) during the Rocky Mountain Adaptive program. The organization, whose motto is, “making the outside accessible to all,” is celebrating its 10th year in operation.

BOW VALLEY – Rocky Mountain Adaptive (RMA) isn’t putting a limit on anything.

The local charity has worked hard to remove barriers in sport and recreation for those living with physical and cognitive disabilities for the past decade and seen success every time those they supported take to the mountains on their own terms.

“That’s something we’re striving to do, is use sport and recreation as a medium to increase independence, self-esteem and personal well being that we all get to experience being active in the mountains,” said Jamie McCulloch, RMA executive director.

“Everyone lives with their own strengths and challenges, we work with an individual and their ability, finding their strengths to help work with them to achieve their goals and potential at mountain sport and rec.”

With over 20 sports and recreational activities available across the Bow Valley year-round with specialized equipment and programming, RMA’s internationally recognized brand provides up to 2,000 adaptive experiences annually during its multi-week or specialized sessions, a far cry from the 40 offered during its first year.

A decade’s worth of providing this craft through RMA has given McCulloch the nod to be inducted into the Bow Valley Sports Hall of Fame this September.

McCulloch said his induction is due to the success of so many more people making RMA what it is. Making the RMA dream work team are 20-50 volunteers, 15 part-time seasonal staff, two full-time and two part-time annual staff, and two full-time winter staff, who have experienced “phenomenal stories” with their guests on mountains, rivers and lakes and on the trails.

RMA is at the point where athletes are excelling with its programming and have competed at the Canada Winter Games in para-alpine races.

The foundation for RMA started over dinner between McCulloch and Ian Hipkins, president of the board of directors.

McCulloch’s main passion was teaching individuals living with disabilities how to ski and snowboard, also known as adaptive ski teaching. He started a program for it while at Sunshine Village, but McCulloch envisioned long-term with Hipkins.

“I met Ian through his daughter Michelle, who’s living with cerebral palsy, I was working with her directly,” said McCulloch. “We shared ideas and a friendship blossomed … I wanted to do a specialized adaptive ski school in the valley that’s a charity solely focusing on people with all abilities coming out and experiencing the joys of skiing and snowboarding. Ian said instead of doing just skiing and snowboarding, do all sports year-round. It was the seed that blossomed into Rocky Mountain Adaptive.”

In the early years, everything at RMA was completely volunteer driven and mainly played to the strengths and expertise of McCulloch and its other winter sport instructors. During its first summer though, RMA had the resources to facilitate hiking, swimming and biking experiences.

“There was a core group of people already involved and once they saw the developments and ideas and what we were trying to achieve, it didn’t take very long for the word to spread,” said Hipkins.

The primary focus was initially on the Bow Valley, but as word spread, it went from local to provincial, national and then international. In particular, the popular alpine program attracts visitors from everywhere around the globe.

RMA sustains itself through grants, program fees and fundraisers, including the popular ForeAbility golf tournament at Silvertip on June 21.

“We don’t want to focus on growing numbers as fast we can, we want to focus on sustainability,” said Hipkins. “As a part of that one of my visions is to create a centre, a physical centre that would be part of our future growth and hopefully short term rather than longer term. That’s the answer to expanding beyond the bow valley, but [the Bow Valley] will always be out home.”

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Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

Jordan Small joined the Outlook in 2014 and covers the vast world of sports in the Bow Valley. A Barrie, Ont. native, he also wrote for RMO's Mountain Guide section and the MD of Bighorn beat.
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