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Through a partnership with Splore, the National Ability Center’s adventure programs have been expanded to include southern Utah raft trips.

Image: Splore

The Italian writer Luciano De Crescenzo once wrote, “We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.” The Park City-based National Ability Center has done just that for more than 30 years, enriching the lives of hundreds of thousands of people here and worldwide. This year, the NAC expands its reach even further through a partnership with Splore, a Utah-based adaptive recreation program founded in 1977 offering river rafting, outdoor climbing, and other outdoor activities. But to fully understand where the NAC is going requires a look at how it began.

When Park City residents Meeche White and Pete Badewitz were given a modest grant from the Disabled American Veterans of Utah to found the Park City Handicapped Sports Association (PCHSA) in 1985, the intent was to teach a small band of disabled veterans how to ski. The nascent program flourished, to say the least. Community fundraisers and additional grant money fueled the fire. In the rapidly evolving world of adaptive sports, PCHSA became the NAC and was soon a leader in its field. White attracted national media attention in 1992 when she escorted a team of six Special Olympians to the International Special Olympics Winter Games Invitational in Austria. That same year, the NAC was awarded its first federal grant. In 1996, an anonymous donor gave the NAC a 26-acre plot near Quinn’s Junction, where it remains today. The NAC has achieved many other notable milestones over the years, among the most impressive occurring in 2008 when the NAC bobsled athletes beat the Jamaican bobsled team.

From these humble roots, the NAC has evolved into a virtual destination resort for a historically under-served worldwide community. The nonprofit organization provides a wide variety of family-oriented, adaptive sport programs to children and adults with spinal cord, neuromuscular, orthopedic, hearing, and visual impairments, as well as those with cognitive and developmental challenges.

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Kelsey Delacenserie pedals along a path near the NAC campus at Quinn’s Junction.

The NAC has steadily expanded its adaptive sports programming for families and military veterans. Last year alone it provided more than 30,000 adaptive experiences and outings to participants and their families. The list of winter and year-round family programs is extensive and includes Alpine and Nordic skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, equestrian activities, aquatics, cycling, indoor rock climbing, biathlon, archery, and sled hockey.

The NAC’s recent partnership with Splore has drawn praise across the board. “I am thrilled to move into this new venture and humbled by the opportunity to carry on the incredible legacy Splore has established,” says NAC Chief Executive Officer Gail Barille. “Collectively we will be able to provide better access, advocacy, and leadership for people of all abilities. Joining forces enables us to expand our mission to reach more kids, veterans, and families in need.” Splore’s Laura Lambert echoes Barille’s enthusiasm. “We’ll become the mobile arm of NAC, taking folks out along the Wasatch Front and down to Moab.” The 40-year-old Splore holds highly coveted BLM and Forest Service use permits for rafting the Colorado River.

For some families, the NAC is much more than just anotheradaptive sports program; it’s a community and a lifestyle. Nancy Delacenserie moved her family to Park City from Wisconsin 11 years ago. The fact that the NAC was here was very much a factor in that decision. “We participated with our daughter, Kelsey, in some adaptive sports programs in Wisconsin, but they were widely scattered and operated by a variety of organizations. Here, everything is under one roof, which is not only convenient but also offers greater continuity of staff and volunteers across programs throughout the year. That’s important to participants.  At first, we were just looking for ways for Kelsey to fill her days and be more active, but it’s turned out to be so much more. Through the NAC programming, she has developed greater independence and confidence, improved her social skills, and made many new friends.”

Delacenserie volunteers with the equestrian program, fundraising events, and the NAC program committee. She’s excited about the partnership with Splore. “It will offer new and exciting experiences, especially river rafting. Moving here has been a game changer for the entire family. I think Kelsey’s life would be very different without the opportunities we’ve found here. All aspects of her life have improved dramatically because of the NAC.” 

“The NAC is a place of healing, connection, and personal transformation, not only within the person impacted by disability, but also in the eyes of their family members,” says CEO Barille. “It made perfect sense for us to partner with Splore to unify and achieve our mutual goals.”

A partnership De Crescenzo would surely embrace.

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