Maine Handicapped Skiing grew out of winter fun, but today it’s growing fast in the summer.

The 28-year-old Newry-based organization is about so much more than skiing. And it is gaining speed in everything it does.

In the past two years the nonprofit that teaches people with disabilities how to ski, golf, kayak and bicycle has offered an “outreach tour” through the state to help introduce its bicycle program to more people.

Both last year and this summer participation in the biking program more than tripled, said MHS outreach director Eric Topper.

“It’s the last couple of years that recreational facilities are actually bringing people en masse to us. They’ll bring vans full of people,” Topper said. “It’s really reassuring to us, that people are saying these activities are important for enriching people’s lives. To have a hospital or rehab facility make this part of treatment, it’s further testament.”

The cycling program grew from 26 participants in 2006 to 48 participants in 2008, then exploded last summer with 136 participants after Topper turned it into an outreach tour.

After taking the program on the road to six new locations, willing cyclists were not hard to find, Topper said.

This summer the cycling program has worked with 139 participants again through outreach to six new facilities.

And Topper is excited about the future.

“The challenge has been for us to get to people who are too far from Portland. This is why the outreach tour is so important. The goal is to generate enough interest that going to new places is a sustainable venture,” Topper said.

He believes that if MHS can show the interest, the funding through grants and donors will come.

“The donors who have supported the cycling outreach understand that this is a recruitment tool, not the end,” Topper said.

So far so good as far as finding interest.

This summer, MHS traveled to Westside Neuro-Rehabilitation in Lewiston. Six patients there tried the adaptive cycling equipment. Of those, two want to continue, joining MHS at its Back Cove cycling event in Portland every other Thursday in the summer, said Tobie Colgan, a recreational therapist at Westside.

“That was a big deal that they came here. Normally, there is a lot of paperwork done through MHS. What is kind of neat about the outreach, they just sign a waiver and our staff is right here assisting,” Colgan said.

Colgan said sometimes the biggest hurdle for people who have had brain injuries is a lack of understanding of what’s out there.

But she said once they try cycling on adaptive equipment, it opens up a whole new opportunity and way of enjoying life and very often they don’t want to give it up.

“Who knows down the road if (MHS) will come up to (the Lewiston-Auburn area) again. But that would open the doors for people up here. I think there would be a lot of interest,” said Colgan, a recreational therapist for 15 years.

“Generally, at least with the population I work with, they don’t know about it.”

 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]