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Colorado Brings Adventure for Boy with Cerebral Palsy

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom, author and blogger
10/18/21  7:00 AM PST

The Jeep had no windows. And no roof – well, a tarp, but that hardly counts. It stood so high off the ground that our guide with the deep sunburn and Australian accent had to fetch the step stool for my seven-year-old twins. I was beginning to regret the big Colorado adventure I had promised my son Charlie.

Charlie is nine and has cerebral palsy. We have been coming to Colorado every summer since he was born – including the two years he had a tracheotomy and a gastrointestinal tube. Even at eight thousand feet above sea level he was a champ. But that didn’t mean this Jeep ride didn’t terrify me. The dangers were both known and unknown. I knew what to expect of the ride, but I didn’t know what to expect of Charlie’s reaction to it.

Charlie has always loved the outdoors. He likes the slip and slide of his wheelchair on the snow and the crunch of damp leaves under his wheels. He relishes the rain that drips under his hood while we wait for the bus. He welcomes the cold winds of February and prefers the prickle of goosebumps to the trapped feeling of being indoors. I get it. His wheelchair is freedom, but it is also a home base that he doesn’t get to leave. Indoors, he is a boy in a box. Outside, he is a boy trekking the great outdoors. Nature brings him freedom and joy, which is why I agreed to the 4 x 4 Jeep tour up the mountain.

But standing at the base of the steepest peak he had ever summited, I began to second guess my choice. Over the years Charlie has ridden the gondola and hitched a ride on his dad’s back in hiking backpacks of increasing size that my husband has retrofitted to meet his needs. But this, this bumpy, free-for-all up the mountain with only one lap belt and my arms for security, was new territory.

We researched it, of course. We called the travel company and quizzed them on the vehicle, the seatbelt restraints, and the duration and level of intensity of the ride itself. But that doesn’t prepare you for the actuality of it. However, we had committed, so in we went – all six of us – my spouse, Charlie, my twins, me and my seventy-five year-old-mother who was perhaps the bravest of us all.

I strapped Charlie securely in the corner seat because it had the most depth and stability. He was sandwiched between me and my spouse, both of us acting as armrests and cushions as we began to roll up the hill.

The ride was rough. The road was less a road than a gravel path that served skiers in winter and repair and emergency vehicles in summer. We skidded over rocks so sharp the guide warned that fishtailing was better than popping a tire. Okay, great, I thought. Between sliding off the mountain and getting a flat, we’re choosing the slide. The wind got colder as we attained higher elevation. The trees grew sparser, aspens giving way to pines and then finally scrub and snow. I shivered in my shorts and rain jacket.

But Charlie? Charlie was all smiles. He clapped as gusts off the hillside blew back his hair. He cheered as we skidded around the hairpin curves and he readily accepted the wildlife and plant pamphlet our leader handed us to see what we could spot. He loved every bit of it, even the sheer drop to his right that I could not bear to see.

We spotted marmots and eagles and chipmunks and just missed a mama bear and her cub that had strolled through an hour before, no doubt making their presence known to stake a claim in the wilderness that was first and foremost theirs. When we reached the peak, I will never forget the look on Charlie’s face as he surveyed a spot that only few had conquered. He was blissed out on an experience neither of us ever thought we would get. We had done it together despite my own fears and his physical limitations. We had summited.

We all deserve adventures, especially the ones that stretch our limitations, because now we know how far we can go and perhaps next time inch a little farther.

Back in Tennessee away from the Colorado mountains that are our summer respite, I asked my twins what the best part of the trip was. They said the Jeep tour “because it was Charlie’s favorite thing.” I agree.


child with special needs
Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom, author and blogger.
Read her blog, The Mom Gene.
Follow her on Facebook.

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