Every Saturday, I get a couple of Google Alerts that keep me in the know about the latest in the worlds of outdoor recreation, adventure travel and more (I’m a nerd, I know). A lot of what comes through is just local event information from all around the country that happens to include my targeted keywords, but there are always a few interesting tidbits. This week’s emails led me to an article about a few new handicap-accessible canoe and kayak launch facilities in and around some city parks in Midland, Michigan.
This is pretty cool stuff. A local community group spearheaded the effort, and the new access points highlight their push to make a wider range of recreation opportunities available to everyone. Although there are some obvious limitations inherent in different disabilities, a partial handicap doesn’t have to mean a person can’t take advantage of an activity that doesn’t require full mobility, and it’s great to see a community taking strides to make its facilities universally available.
The article got me thinking about all of the excuses I’ve heard (and used) for why we let ourselves miss out on opportunities for recreation and adventure, and this is just the latest example of how inadequate those arguments really are. Remember Natalie du Toit, the South African swimmer who competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics, despite having one leg amputated at the knee? Or Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee also from South Africa, whose record time for the 400-meter dash is less than two seconds off of the world record for an able-bodied athlete? Or Erik Weihenmayer, whose blindness didn’t stop him from reaching the summit of Mount Everest? With role models like this, our complaints of “It’s too hot,” “I’m out of shape,” “I’m too busy,” “I can’t afford it” totally fail to hold water.
Today, we have a lot more advantages in terms of recreation than our parents and grandparents did, but we often need to overcome some modern obstacles first. Everyone knows that video games have contributed to the decline of neighborhood kids playing together after school and the growing trend of obesity in both kids and adults. Fifty years ago, most kids considered playing outside much more interesting than being confined to the house, whereas many of today’s kids with access to gaming consoles, hundreds of television channels and an Internet full of possibilities have to be forced outdoors by their parents.
Despite the digital distractions, we have a lot more options to get out and do something than ever before. Parks and trail systems are easily and freely accessible to just about everyone, and as the weather gets warmer, there are few valid excuses to not take advantage and enjoy what’s available. In terms of cost, there are thousands of opportunities that we’ve already paid for in part or in full with our tax dollars. For adventures on non-public lands, most cities now have flash deal sites, which make it much more affordable to spend a day on a high-ropes course, go whitewater rafting or try your hand at disc golf. Our jobs usually allow evenings and weekends off or a few days in a row away from work, and although we all have full lives that take up much more time than just the hours we spend on the job, the time is there for getting out and doing something active outdoors if you consciously make it a priority. The physical and mental benefits make it well worth the trouble.
I’m just as guilty as anyone, so this isn’t me pointing an accusatory finger here. During the winter, I yearn for the warmth and flexibility that summer brings, but each fall, I always look back and think I could have taken more chances to bring my dog on longer hikes in new places or get out for more weekend trips with my kayak or just go to a dark, open field at night to lie down and watch for shooting stars. There are few things I enjoy more, and sitting around watching the Thursday night lineup pales in comparison.
I’m going to make a point to make the summer of 2012 one that I won’t look back on with any regrets. The opportunities are right within our reach. Let’s seize the day.