Robin Idol has lived with a degenerative disease for two decades, but she has not let it keep her from living the life she desires.
Idol, a Kalispell resident who has lived in the Flathead Valley for the better part of three decades, developed cerebellar degeneration about 20 years ago. According to rarediseases.com, it results in the deterioration of nerve cells in the cerebellum, the area of the brain that controls muscle coordination and balance.
“It greatly affects my balance and makes it hard to walk, but you don’t have to sit around and let it beat you,” Idol said. “My neurologist, Dr. Brett Lindsay, said if I weren’t staying active, I’d already be wheelchair-bound.”
Thursday afternoon, Idol and several other people with varying disabilities were at the home of Mike and Julie Thompson along the shore of Echo Lake near Creston for DREAM Adaptive Recreation’s summer program that includes watersports activities.
Idol, who uses two crutches to help her walk, had help from volunteers to get down the steep part of the yard to the boat dock and into a Onit Ability Board that helped her sit waterski. She fell out a handful of times as the boat sped around the lake, but there was always a volunteer there to help her back to the boat.
“It’s a great feeling being able to get out and do these types of activities and I really appreciate DREAM having these programs,” Idol said. “I may be biased because I am actively involved with DREAM, but more people need to do these things.
“The events are very organized, safety is the first priority, the volunteers are right there to help if there’s a mishap and that’s real comfort.”
Idol said it can be easy to be intimidated when trying such activities, but she has complete trust and confidence in the group. She also participates in winter activities such as standup skiing, sit skiing and snow carting with DREAM at the Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Idol, a North Carolina native, moved to the Seeley Lake area in 1980 with her then-husband. After a brief return to their home state, she returned to the Flathead Valley in 1990 for good.
“There’s no place I’d rather be, there’s just so much to do outdoors. Some of these activities are hard, but they are worth trying,” Idol said.
Whitefish-based DREAM Adaptive Recreation has worked for more than 30 years in the Flathead Valley to make outdoors activities more accessible to disabled people. This week, it celebrated its 10th year of summer programs.
One of the first projects the group completed was working with Glacier National Park to create the wheelchair accessible Trail of the Cedars hiking trail. The nature trail winds through a hemlock forest to Avalanche Gorge and has become the most visited trail in Glacier National Park – with more than half of all visitors (over 1 million) enjoying the trail each year.
DREAM interim Executive Director Julie Tickle, who was an All-American athlete in college, went to work in Colorado Springs at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and for U.S. Paralympics before making her way to the valley with her husband less than two years ago.
“I felt the calling to work in adaptive sports and I believe everyone with a disability should have an opportunity to participate in outdoors activities,” Tickle said. “There are so many benefits. It helps increase your self-esteeem by trying new things.
“You can take a little sense of independence you develop in outdoors activities into other parts of your life and that means a great deal,” Tickle said.
Participants were able to enjoy various water sports activities, including water skiing, wake boarding, knee boarding, tubing, paddle boarding, kayaking, boating and swimming.
The summer watersports program was a cooperative effort between DREAM and many area sponsors, including Weyerhaeuser’s Giving Fund, which provided a $5,000 grant to help pay for this week’s activities.
According to DREAM’s website, people that benefit from adaptive recreation include those with visual impairments, amputations, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, head injuries, cerebral palsy, other neuromuscular/orthopedic conditions, autism and related intellectual disabilities.
DREAM’s summer programs aren’t over, either. It has a watersports event planned in August at Sophie Lake in Eureka.
For more information about DREAM Adaptive’s programs, call 406-862-1817 or go to dreamadaptive.org.
Reporter Scott Shindledecker can be reached at (406) 758-4441 or email@example.com.