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Sep 23rd
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Getting Physical

Nonprofit partners with U.S. Paralympics to provide disabled locals with more adventures

At 17 years old, Foster Andersen loved skiing, playing ice hockey, and listening to the Grateful Dead. He thrived outdoors and enjoyed trying new activities.

So, when he broke his neck in a motorcycle accident, his whole life changed.

Despite becoming quadriplegic and bound to a wheelchair, Andersen managed to graduate high school with his class, and spend years traveling from Rochester, N.Y. to Berkeley and everywhere in between before eventually settling down in Santa Cruz.

“I first moved down here right after the Loma Prieta Earthquake because I wanted to help in whatever way I could,” Andersen, 51, says. “I really didn’t know how.”

Prior to moving out west, Andersen founded a sit-ski program for disabled skiers in New York called Shared Adventures. He decided to move the organization out to Santa Cruz after he met professional surfer Terry Simms while studying computer graphics engineering at Cabrillo College.

“[Simms] came to Cabrillo College and asked if anyone wanted to go surfing,” he recalls. “Of course I raised my hand and he and a bunch of volunteers took us down the stairs at 38th Avenue stairwell and took us out surfing.” Andersen enjoyed the experience so much that he decided to bring Shared Adventures to Santa Cruz and broaden its offerings. Since receiving official nonprofit status in 1994, Shared Adventures has provided social and sports activities for people with special needs in Santa Cruz County.

On Jan. 6, Shared Adventures partnered with U.S. Paralympics, a division of the U.S. Olympics Committee, to create Paralympic Sport-Santa Cruz—a community-based sports club dedicated to furthering Shared Adventures’ mission of getting people with physical and visual disabilities outside and active.

U.S. Paralympics is designed to reach out to communities like Santa Cruz—there are 155 clubs around the country—and create local resources that offer sports programs year-round.

“It’s really exciting to see this get to this point,” Andersen says. “I’ve been working hard for the last 20 years to get this off the ground.” Joining forces with U.S. Paralympics, he adds, could lead to better funding, new activities, and possible expansion south to Monterey.

“Santa Cruz is playing an important part to give people an avenue and an outlet to get physically fit,” says Susan Rossi, U.S. Paralympics community and veterans program manager. “It’s a great local resource for the Northern California area so that people can get active on a daily and weekly basis and participate in the community with their family and friends.”

With the idea of an “athlete pipeline” in place, Rossi says, more competitive participants will have some avenues to reach a higher level, perhaps even the official Paralympic games, which will be held in London this year.

“They’re increasing their physical fitness but they’re also gaining socialization with their peers and family members and the community,” says Rossi. “A lot of times, sports leads to such things as getting a drivers license, getting married, [and] getting an education.”

According to 2010 U.S. Census data, there are 54 million Americans with a disability and 11 million require personal assistance with everyday activities. By providing assisted opportunities, organizations like Shared Adventures and U.S. Paralympics can increase quality of life.

“I broke my neck in 1978 and there really wasn’t a lot of hope for people back then in terms of survival,” Andersen says. “I overcame a lot of odds over the years—it’s been 34 years—since I’ve been in a chair.”

When he first arrived in Santa Cruz, Andersen noticed that many places were not accessible for disabled locals—the Americans with Disabilities Act wouldn’t be passed until the following year—and he felt that raising awareness and building relationships between those with special needs and those without was the first step to addressing the inaccessibility.

From rock climbing, to bocce ball, to archery—Shared Adventures assists both adults and children in outdoor and social activities. Spring activities will include sailing, surfing with Ride-A-Wave, and bi-weekly art classes along with many other options.

“There are a lot of people that got into accidents that just give up and think there’s no life anymore,” says Andersen. “But there is more to life then being homebound and waiting for your care provider. I’ve been there.”

The 20th annual Day On The Beach will be held on July 21, always near the anniversary of Andersen’s accident, when hundreds of volunteers will help construct a giant plywood platform on Cowell Beach that allows beach access for all. Live music, food, and water sports are all organized and offered for free. 

“Santa Cruz is a great destination point for anybody, especially [for those] with a disability as far as access to the outdoors goes,” he says. Andersen is excited that Shared Adventures seems to be making a difference in people’s lives—both disabled and volunteers. He says, “I kinda feel like I’m Bill Graham because I put on all these great shows.” 

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