RAD Recreation Adapted Society helps BC disabled people reach new heights in outdoor recreation
By renting and loaning expensive adaptive gear like handcycles or ParaGolfers, the society is providing access to people who otherwise may miss out on the outdoors
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Tanelle Bolt has always loved exploring the natural spaces of Vancouver Island—whether that be biking, hiking, surfing, and more. But in 2014, at age 27, she sustained a severe spinal cord injury due to a recreational accident that caused her to be paralyzed from the chest down.
Bolt didn’t want to stop participating in her favourite outdoor activities, but she quickly realized there were steep financial barriers to accessing the equipment she needed. Handcycle accessible bicycles can cost several thousand dollars; more advanced equipment is even more. ParaGolfers, for example, which help people who use wheelchairs stand for golf, archery, or lifting weights, costs about $42,000 each.
“I found that there were large gaps in the system of being disabled and still wanting to participate in recreation activities,” Bolt said. “It costs a fortune.”
That’s when she decided to create the RAD Recreation Adapted Society, a Victoria-based charity that provides accessible access to adaptive outdoor gear for people across British Columbia. Six and a half years later, her phone is constantly ringing with people looking to use RAD’s equipment, which has been rented to hundreds of people in the province.
“I founded RAD [for the] inclusion of people that were never included in the outdoors,” she said. “Just seeing people be able to recreate and play their way is so fulfilling.”
Members of RAD can rent equipment for free, and non-members only pay day rates of about $100, depending on the gear they want, to help with maintenance costs. RAD also has need-based discounts on day rates.
Some of the popular rental items available through RAD include a portable pathway for wheeled devices to access sandy or grassy areas, handcycles, sit skis, surfboards, mountain trike all-terrain bikes, ParaGolfers, and more.
Sierra Roth, a member of RAD who has also donated gear to the program, says that being able to access this gear for a fraction of the market cost is game changing.
“To be able to just grab a piece of [adaptive] equipment and go and use it is a big deal, because that doesn't really exist anywhere else,” she said.
“These types of equipment are really important for just basic things that we don't think about.”
One man, Roth said, used adaptive equipment to allow him to visit his wife’s grave. Bolt showed a veteran who had lost the use of one leg after a tumor removal how to use a ParaGolfer, which he used to golf again.
Carl Joosse’s 10-year-old son, Christian, had never been able to join his family on a bike ride. Since Christian was three years old, he’s had chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy—a neurological disorder that degenerated his ability to use his legs and speak. Joosse often carried his son on hikes for most of his childhood, but it’s gotten more difficult as Christian gets older.
When the Joosse family discovered RAD, they couldn’t believe one of the only options for adaptive equipment in Canada was so close to their home in North Saanich. The day Bolt came to teach Christian how to use a mountain trike, Joosse remembers his son’s rapt attention and big smile as Bolt walked him through the equipment.
“I saw his self esteem come up when he met her that very day, as they were working together on the mountain trikes,” said Joosse.
Since then, Christian has used the mountain trike to hike, take a trip to explore Whistler, and go on a long-awaited first family bike ride. His family has ordered him a mountain trike of his own, so that this fall he will be able to ride to school alongside his sister.
For Joosse, the benefit of RAD on his family goes beyond just the gear rentals.
“Tanelle herself was so inspiring,” he said. “[She set] a remarkable example for my son to see just how adapted and how capable she is.”
Bolt shares her experience navigating life with a physical disability—along with advice on everything from paraplegic-friendly workouts to cooking from a wheelchair—through her YouTube channel, Pro Tips For Paras.
“It’s totally built on the heart,” she said. She’s grateful to other organizations and groups that have partnered with her to help make RAD what it is. Since the start, she’s fundraised to purchase all the adaptive equipment through grants, sponsors, and events like their annual Polar Bear Plunge.
Bolt is currently fundraising to build a gear box—a large storage container built to hold equipment and tools to repair them—in Victoria, to allow residents even more access to the more than 10 new pieces of adaptive equipment she has acquired. She says the City of Langford is working towards approving a RAD gear box for the Langford Lake boat launch.
Over the past six years, she’s driven all across the province to help RAD’s equipment those who need it most, but even Bolt sometimes finds herself surprised by the impact adaptive gear can have.
When Bolt first got the mountain trike this winter, a rare snowfall was coming down outside. She decided to go outside for a walk in the snow with her partner—something she hadn’t done in years due to obstacles left on the sidewalk due to poor shoveling.
“I was able to overcome the barriers that people have left in the way,” she said. “It was the first time in the seven years since my injury that I was able to go for an hour and a half long stroll with my partner and the dog and not be tired… and not pay attention to every crack in the sidewalk.”
Bolt realized it came down to the feeling so many other RAD members experience when trying gear for the first time: freedom.
“I didn't know I was missing that experience until I had it,” she said.