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Bucket List: Splore shares outdoor ‘magic’ with people with disabilities

Everybody has a life list; Splore helps the disabled cross off their outdoor adventure goals.

First Published Jul 06 2014 02:17 pm • Last Updated Jul 28 2014 12:03 pm

The Colorado River » The currents of life have carried Kenny Robertson toward many obstacles.

Determination, a good attitude and the love of family and friends have helped lift him over, around and sometimes through them.

At a glance

The Utah

Bucket List

Check out the bucket list’s Facebook page — facebook.com/UtahBucketList — or follow @UtahBucketList on Twitter and tell us what’s on your list of things to do in this life.

‘Utah’s Bucket List 2,’ a collaboration between The Salt Lake Tribune and KUED-Channel 7, will air on Aug. 11 at 7 p.m.

About Splore

The Utah nonprofit launched in 1977 after founder Martha Ham visited a California group that provided outdoor recreational activities to people with disabilities. Splore started offering river-rafting trips in southern Utah.

It has added climbing, canoeing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing to its mix and allows people without disabilities to participate in its programs. A fee is required for all trips, but scholarships are available. For more information, visit www.splore.org.

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Robertson, 49, who was born with cerebral palsy, says river currents have the same power to help those coping with the challenges of a body that doesn’t always respond the way you wish it would.

"I’ve seen the people that come on these trips; their reactions to the beautiful views that Mother Nature gives," Robertson said during a recent river trip arranged by Splore, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit.

"I’ve seen the spark that comes when they have said, ‘Oh, I can’t do that,’ and then they realize, ‘Oh, yes I can.’ "

Splore has provided opportunities for people with disabilities to experience outdoor recreation for 37 years. Founder Martha Ham started Splore in 1977 after she saw disabled rafters enjoy a river trip in California.

Janine Donald, the current executive director, says roughly 50,000 people have participated in Splore programs.

"River rafting is definitely a hallmark program for Splore," Donald said recently while standing on the banks of the Colorado River. "But our programs based out of Salt Lake see more people throughout the course of the year."

The organization also provides programs for climbing, canoeing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

"We specialize in serving people with disabilities, but anyone can go on a Splore trip," Donald said. "There is no real qualifier for someone to participate."

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‘There’s no barrier’ » Gabrielle Ford considers Splore her "other family."

She joined her first Splore trip as part of a group of people with Friedreich’s ataxia, a genetic neuromuscular disease. She returned to Utah from Viera, Fla., this summer for her fourth excursion.

"My first trip was about doing white-water rafting, but it quickly turned into [being about] the people and wanting to come back and see them again," she said. "There is a bond with the other people on the trip and the guides right from the start. There’s no barrier you have to break down."

Ford was diagnosed as a teenager after she began having difficulty controlling her body. Other students made fun of her clumsiness. Her memoir became the book "Gabe & Izzy: Speaking Up for America’s Bullied," and she now visits schools to talk about the impact of bullying.

Her Splore trip this year had a different twist.

Rhonda Hillman had been hearing about her daughter’s travels in Utah for years. She finally got a chance to see why the trips had become so important to Gabe, as she prefers to be called.

"It has been so neat for her to be able to come by herself and to learn she could do it on her own," Hillman said. "I can understand now why these experiences are so special to her. She has been able to teach me her love for the river."

Hillman said she had "fallen in love with everybody here. They all look beyond physical disabilities and see human hearts. They are just beautiful people."

‘I love to walk all over my fears’ » Donald encourages bringing along family, friends and caretakers on Splore trips.

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