BY RICHARD RHINEHART
Denver, July 7, 2011 – A devastating skiing accident two decades ago ripped Minnesotan Jennifer Peterson away from the outdoors. Quadriplegic following her accident, Jennifer resigned herself to indoor activities.
In early 2011, a high school friend contacted the diminutive Mound, Minnesota resident, inquiring if she would like to participate in World T.E.A.M. Sports’ June Adventure TEAM Challenge in Colorado’s high mountains. “My first reaction was ‘no, I don’t think I want to do that,’” Jennifer recalled as she waited for the Challenge’s closing ceremonies. “I started thinking about it – then maybe – but the big question was ‘how – how can I do this?’”
At the Rancho del Rio Resort on the Colorado River west of Denver June 27, the mood of the 65 participating Adventure TEAM Challenge athletes, volunteers and supporters was light and upbeat. All teams had successfully finished the three-day event, which included mountain biking, river rafting, a zip line and other outdoor challenges. Tired but satisfied, the athletes looked forward to a return to civilization from the rugged campsite.
Jennifer sat in a corner of the festive dining tent, out of the bright mid day sun. To her side was Clarissa Olivares-Pozgaj, an outgoing 16-year-old from Lake Forest, California who had just completed her second Challenge.
Noting she hadn’t even gone camping in 20 years, Jennifer recalled she found the answer to her participation question through the short 2010 Adventure TEAM Challenge video. Produced by the California-based business intelligence software provider, Alteryx, Inc., sponsor of the 2011 Challenge, the video prominently features Clarissa, a quadriplegic herself with a rare disorder called arthrogryposis. Clarissa found the Challenge to be life-changing and competed with a team that includes her father, Nino.
“It opened up a whole new world,” said Jennifer, remembering her initial online viewing of the 2010 video. “This is about spirit and heart,” she said, speaking directly to her new California friend. “Clarissa, you inspired me to participate.”
“It’s kind of hard to believe,” Clarissa responded, regarding her motivation of others. “It’s really neat I inspired a lot of people. I’m really proud.”
Successfully completing the 2011 Challenge as a member of The Prouty Project’s Team Triumph, Jennifer looks at the event as a doorway to future outdoor activities. “I’m not an extreme athlete and I don’t necessarily need to do this, but it opened up so much more.”
“It takes a lot of guts to step up and do this kind of stuff and participate.”
Though Jennifer is uncertain if she’ll return from Minnesota for the 2012 Adventure TEAM Challenge, Clarissa is definitely interested in a third round. “If my Dad’s up for it,” she said.