Challenge Aspen founder bringing help to Argentina
If anyone knows the joy of using wheels when you can’t use your legs, it’s Amanda Boxtel.After becoming paralyzed from the waist down in a skiing accident in 1992, she and her wheelchair have become fixtures around the Roaring Fork Valley. Boxtel helped found Challenge Aspen, a nonprofit that helps disabled people learn the joys of sports in the mountains from skiing to horseback riding.So when she traveled to Bariloche, Argentina, last fall and saw disabled children at a school for the mentally challenged sitting in dilapidated chairs or dragging themselves along the floor, she committed to her next project.”I made a personal promise to give every child I saw there a wheelchair by September,” she said. Boxtel came back to the United States and did some research on wheelchair-related nonprofits and found The Mobility Project.The nonprofit, based in Colorado Springs, refurbishes wheelchairs to donate and includes a volunteer team of physical therapists who go the distance to make sure recipients are comfortable in their new wheels. That includes fitting them with cushions, head rests and teaching them wheelchair skills like going down stairs and popping curbs.
“They also teach basketball skills and other sports skills so they know how to play,” Boxtel said. “And the importance of home health care.”And most importantly, Mobility Project focuses on the poorest of the poor all over the world. Their slogan is “Bringing dignity and independence to people with disabilities throughout the world.””Argentina is not a third-world country, but there are people who need our assistance,” Boxtel said. “I believe there is a real disparity between the classes down there.”The international connectionBoxtel first went to Bariloche to help Aspen’s South American sister city begin a program for people with disabilities modeled after Challenge Aspen. The ski resort town now calls its own adaptive skiing program “Desafio Bariloche” – which means “Challenge Bariloche.”On her second trip to South America, Boxtel realized she hadn’t seen many people – children or adults – who were mobility impaired. She asked a Bariloche resident who acts as an advocate for people with disabilities for help finding this population, and was taken to the Alumine school.
The school is for mentally challenged youth and adults living in poverty.”I saw children who don’t even have wheelchairs – their contorted bodies were twisted on a mat on the floor, unable to move without assistance,” she said. “One 17-year-old girl had her legs permanently crossed because she had lived her life being transported in a fruit crate.”Many of the children who looked back at Boxtel saw the purple rims on her titanium wheelchair that she lives in every day, providing her with independence. A month later Boxtel was back in Aspen, rolling quickly down the Rio Grande Trail when she blew out one of her tires.”I was far away from my car, rolling on the rim and feeling sorry for myself when I changed my thoughts to realizing that at least I have a wheelchair that I can push to my car,” she said. “I rolled into Aspen Velo and they repaired my chair in five minutes. I realize how lucky I am.”Boxtel must raise $6,000 for the project’s costs – her partners in Bariloche have already raised that amount and she has agreed to match it. The Bariloche trip is planned for Sept. 7 through 19, including five days of wheelchair distribution, three days of teaching recipients skills with their new wheels, and four days of lessons on skiing for the disabled.
Her wheelchair project is a personal one, but she is partnering with Challenge Aspen to provide the adaptive skiing lessons.To ensure that the wheelchairs will fit each recipient as comfortably as possible, volunteers in Bariloche have collected the height, weight and disability for each person to send on to The Mobility Project. There are plans for 175 of these recipients altogether – so far the volunteers have only found 140 recipients.The remaining 25 wheelchairs will be given to the local hospital and local schools.Anyone interested in donating to Boxtel’s project should make checks payable to Mobility Project, with Bariloche, Argentina written in the memo section. Send checks to Amanda Boxtel, P.O. Box 3767, Basalt, CO 81621.For more information on the project, e-mail Boxtel at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.mobilityproject.org.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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