Program aims to include all Alaskans in activities

Posted: Thursday, July 29, 2004

Alaska's range of recreational opportunities are as diverse as its people, and Beth Edmands sees no reason those opportunities can't be taken advantage of by all Alaska residents.

Edmands, the executive director for Challenge Alaska, spoke Wednesday at the regular meeting of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce at Paradisos Restaurant. She said the goal of her organization is to ensure that Alaskans with disabilities have the same chance to enjoy the state as everyone else.

"We think it's very important people with disabilities have the same opportunities you or I have," Edmands told the chamber.

Challenge Alaska was founded in 1980 by Doug Keil, a double amputee from Juneau who overcame depression and drug abuse by learning to ski despite his challenges. After becoming an internationally-recognized champion skier, Keil returned to Alaska, where he started a program to help others like him learn to ski.

Edmands said that from Keil's original group started out of a "broom closet" at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood Challenge Alaska has grown into one of the most recognizable organizations for people with disabilities in Alaska.

"We serve thousands and thousands of Alaskans," she said.

In addition to its adaptive ski program at Alyeska, Challenge Alaska sponsors a variety of therapeutic recreation opportunities ranging from kayaking and water skiing to guitar and cooking lessons.

Edmands said the goal of her organization is to help people with disabilities find creative and fun ways to overcome the special challenges they face.

"It's our mission to basically change people's lives through sports and recreation," she said.

From helping children find ways to get outdoors to enabling adults to become more active in the community, Edmands said Challenge Alaska looks for ways to help as many people as possible. She mentioned one individual who found he could make friends more easily and fit in better socially by playing golf. Challenge Alaska helped the man purchase a special golf cart, and he's now out on the links several times a week.

"You're taking something that really empowers people and can really change their lives," Keil said.

Helping more people get out on the golf course will be even easier after this summer, as Challenge Alaska will be a primary charitable beneficiary of next month's Kenai Chrysler Open, the largest professional golf tournament in Alaska.

Kenai Chrysler owner Bob Favretto said Wednesday that he believes Challenge Alaska is the perfect organization to benefit from the tournament because he's always looking to help people who face special challenges and obstacles in their lives.

"I just thought it was a perfect fit," Favretto told the chamber.

Edmands said she's thankful for the support of businesses like Kenai Chrysler, and she hopes to soon expand Challenge Alaska's assisted golf program to the entire state.

"It's our goal to get (specialized) golf carts at every course in the state," she said.

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