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Dakota Center for Independent Living

The Great Outdoors and Living With a Disability

By: Jacey Enget, Board Member of Youth Empower Social Status YESS

I am a twenty-nine year old woman who was born and raised under the great western skies of central North Dakota, where my parents instilled in me a very deep love for the outdoors. The love I have for the outdoors is a small, yet very large part of my life and who I am. I give my readers this explanation before I go any further in writing this blog, because I know that this is not the first thing someone outside my circle of friends and family notices about me. I use a power wheelchair as my main form of getting around. This is because I was born with spastic cerebral palsy. Now that I have given you a small back story, I would like to tell my readers a short story about one of my passions in life the outdoors.
Growing up, I never let the words ‘no’ or ‘I can’t’ get in my way. If I wanted to try something new my parents have always helped me figure out a way for me to do that said task. Those tasks include but are not limited: to anything from riding a horse, to getting in a sit-ski and that ski getting tied behind a boat and allowing the boat to take me around the lake.
I have been riding horseback since about the age of two, up until I was around the age of seventeen. This was a task that took lots of energy and help from myself and others. When I was younger and I wanted to go for a ride, someone would have to lift me into the saddle and either sit behind me or someone would have to stand on each side of me while I or someone else would lead the horse around my grandparents’ yard. Now once I am lifted into the saddle, I am able to ride on my own. This is because I asked my dad if we could have a saddle made that straps my torso in and has a back rest, thus making it possible. I don’t remember the first time I got on the back of a horse but I do know I got on and never looked back, whether I’m riding with or without the help of others.
Earlier, I mentioned how the words ‘no’ or ‘can’t’ will never get in my way and I think people will realize that this is true when I tell them that I have been water skiing since the age of seven or snow skiing since I was eleven. Two years ago, my parents went to Red Lodge, Montana, so my dad could go skiing, while mom went sight-seeing. My brother and I went to spend the weekend with our grandparents. That Saturday night when my parents called to talk to us, dad got on the phone and asked if I wanted to try snow skiing. Being slightly confused, while also ecstatic I said, ‘yes’! I then I asked him how? He told me that while he was skiing that morning, he had seen a man skiing all on his own while sitting in a sit-ski similar to the one I use when water skiing. At this point I was sold. If you haven’t realized by now, I am a bit of an adrenaline junky. Two years later, the rest was history. I was strapped into a ski and taken down the mountain, and I have been skiing ever since.
Technically, I should have put the next part of this story before snow skiing. I started water skiing first around seven years old. Since I wasn’t as strong then as I am now, I placed it here in this post. Now I am going back in time a few years, so first let me explain how someone who uses a wheelchair can ski behind a boat. This event is called ‘Escape to the Lake’, and it is put on by NDAD (North Dakota Association for the Disabled), out of Bismarck, and a group out of Huston Texas called ‘Texas Adaptive Aquatics’. Two other groups of volunteers ‘Sporting Chance’, also out of Bismarck volunteering to transport participants in and out of the water, into a sit-ski that is tied behind a boat. You are then paired with two volunteer skiers who ski on either side of you. These skiers’ range in age from ten to late twenties or early thirties. They are there to help prevent you from falling into the water once we are up and going, around the lake. This group is consisted of the team of kids, their coaches, two boat drivers, and their announcer. They are a ski show team out of Aberdeen, South Dakota, called the ‘Aberdeen Aqua Addicts’. This event is done in Center, North Dakota, at Lake Nelson. This is a lake filled with discharge water that comes out of the nearby power plan. This means that the water is always warm and does not freeze in the winter. The water stays on average at about ninety-eight degrees year-round. This is perfect for someone like me who deals with muscle spasms, as they can be very painful. We are still able to have fun like everyone else, and still stay safe and comfortable. Once again, I started water skiing and never looked back.
My family is also a big hunting family so naturally things are no different for me; it just means there has to be a few adaptations. I went through Hunters Safety like everyone else in my age group that chooses to take the course and I passed with flying colors. The adaptations that I need take place in the field. They start like this: during bow season in North Dakota, if you are diagnosed with a condition that hinders your ability to lift or hold a compound bow, you can use a crossbow, whether it is a lifelong or short-term disability. You just have to go to your doctor and have them fill out a form and write a note that states how long you will need to use it for and then take it to your local Game and Fish office. The next big change that makes it possible for me to enjoy hunting is this: as long as a doctor documents that I have a physical condition that makes it hard or impossible for me to get out of a vehicle and hike for miles. I am able to hunt from the window of our ATV during rifle season. I drive along through the trails that a person would normally walk through. At the age of sixteen, I was able to start hunting with ‘Sporting Chance’ during North Dakota bow season using a blind, a structure that you sit in hiding you from the animal. My family has the perfect land set up for deer hunting in the north western corner of the state. You just have to know where to go and be willing to put in some work. It also takes some patience as you may have to wait quite a while for the animal to show up. So, as you can see I love the outdoors, and I don’t let my disability get in my way.Jacey