BY MELISSA GRAPPONE
Claryville, New York, June 28, 2011: It started as a conversation during the course of business. World T.E.A.M. Sports board member and American Portfolios Financial Services, Inc. CEO Lon T. Dolber learned about the Center for Discovery (SDTC), a residential community in Upstate New York for individuals with various developmental and physical disabilities, through a business partner whose son lives there. There the idea was sparked to join residents, teachers and aids from the center with participants of World T.E.A.M. Sports (WTS), to create an unforgettable two-day outing comprised of orienteering, cycling, hiking and boating challenges. After nine months of preparation and planning, a trial run for the first Adventure TEAM Challenge of its kind was launched in 2010, garnering enough positive feedback and a buzz around the center from staff, residents and family members to warrant holding the event again for its second year—and with twice as many participating athletes.
If ever there was an event that captured the spirit of World T.E.A.M. Sports, it would be the Adventure TEAM Challenge held June 17-19 at Frost Valley in the Catskill Mountains. Those of us who have experienced an Adventure TEAM Challenge understand that the rewards in giving of our time and ourselves become a distant second to the rewards received after having been touched by a population—often overlooked—that peacefully and quietly lives with the challenges of basic daily life; they welcomed us into their world, showing us their strength and their capacity to persevere.
And so last Friday the events began. Overcast skies and intermittent rain—hard at times—threatened to cancel the one event scheduled for the day, an orienteering course. But grey turned to blue and under a warm late afternoon sun, five teams: Red Tide, Green Gators, Yellow Jackets, Orange Crush, and Blue Steel walked the grounds of the camp with map, compass and clues in hand searching for markers. SDTC and WTS coaches guided the athletes through the navigation, taking their lead and their hunches throughout the course and ultimately to two final destinations with challenges awaiting them. One was negotiating a cable bridge suspended over a swift moving mountain stream. Tommy, a 23-year old athlete, who loves a challenge and the opportunity to try something new, was determined to overcome his fear of heights and make his way across the bridge several feet above the water; and he did so with the encouragement of his team.
The other challenge was the flying squirrel; athletes were hoisted and suspended 30 to 60 feet in mid-air by harness, rope and pulley. Everyone on the Yellow Jackets team was gamed, extending their time in the orienteering event so that everyone could get a turn, even Linda who last year had done the challenge with ambivalence but who was as confident as ever this time around.
Saturday held the remaining challenges which began at dawn with a four-hour hike up the region’s tallest peak—Slide Mountain. Unlike last year’s smaller expedition of three athletes and accompanying SDTC and WTS coaches, this time, eight athletes came prepared with their songs and challenge spirit as they snaked their way up a steady, rocky ascent. Antwain, a young man with few words but full of energy, sporting a big, full grin every step of the way, was the first to make it to the top of the mountain, as he had done last year. 15-year old Gabby never imagined being able to do something like this; supported by leg braces inserted into her sneakers—and with careful, deliberative footing—she and her team were the last to make it to the summit to marvel at the views on top of the world. The descent presented an unforeseeable challenge when a minor fall thwarted Gabby’s confidence, paralyzing her with fear; but it was quickly dissipated by comforting words from her team mates and SDTC and WTS coaches Matt Kansy and Bob Clayton, who, on the treacherous and rocky parts of the trail—Matt, with his unconventional climbing footwear (rubber sock shoes) and Bob, in mule-like fashion—nimbly worked their way down the mountain exchanging turns carrying Gabby on their backs.
By 2 p.m. two concurrent challenges culminated to a grand finish line; WTS coaches made their way back to Frost Valley from the trail head of Slide Mountain on a five-mile bike ride while special athletes pushed themselves hard after weeks of training to complete a one- to two-mile cycling course with their adaptive bicycles on the camp’s premises.
At 4 p.m., a Regatta event on Lake Cole was the final challenge. The stronger athletes ventured out on the open lake in row boats maneuvering their oars while taking instruction from their coaches. The more medically fragile athletes were placed in kayaks that had floating devices attached to them to stabilize the vessel and special seats for a more comfortable and secure ride. As coaches assisted the special athletes with their arm movements to operate the ores, family members dotted the shore witnessing the courage of their daughters, their sons, their sisters and their brothers. Maggie, an athlete on the Steel Blue team stayed back on the shore for a while with her parents who came up for the weekend to visit her and watched her fellow athletes make their way across the long stretch of lake. She was enjoying the chaos of the moment of athletes being suited with life jackets, row boats and kayaks being launched or docked as teams were leaving and returning, the crowd cheering, and warm embraces and thankful praises being exchanged. Maggie was ready now. She stood up, waved goodbye to her parents and walked to the edge of the lake with her coach. Her parents interlocked arms as they watched Maggie get into the row boat to be pushed off.
It was a good day.
Melissa Grappone serves as the Director of Corporate Communications for American Portfolios Financial Services in Holbrook, New York.