Upon meeting the Sanchez family, some things are obvious: They’re charismatic, adventurous and incredibly supportive of one another. What’s not immediately evident, especially while in the wild of Wyoming, is that two of the children have Down syndrome.
That this goes unnoticed is in large part due to the firecracker, no-one-can-stop-me personalities of the kids. Joaquin (10) and Sophia (9) are determined to embrace life’s joys and challenges as much as, if not more than, everyone else.
But some credit goes to the environment, too.
Ryan Burke, a board member and volunteer with Teton Adaptive Sports, an organization committed to improving the quality of life for athletes with disabilities, explains it like this: “There’s this place where their desire to do what everyone else does meets the opportunity, and Teton Adaptive Sports in Wyoming provides that place, that kind of magical feeling in the air, that lets people reach their full potential.”
Teton Adaptive Sports (TAS), a non-profit, offers year-round programming in climbing, camping, cycling, mountain biking, hiking, paddling, alpine and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating/sled hockey for children and adults who visit or reside in the Tetons. Ryan Burke and the staff are dedicated to helping athletes with all kinds of disabilities experience the outdoors and push their boundaries.
The Sanchez family, California natives who were visiting Wyoming for the very first time, partnered with Ryan and TAS to try their hand at canoeing on String Lake and rock climbing at Blacktail Butte in Jackson Hole valley. With Ryan’s support, all four kids were able to paddle and climb in some of the world’s most beautiful scenery. The adventure facilitated not only family bonding, but also confidence building.
Mother, Jennifer, expresses why this trip was so important to her family.
“We really enjoy giving the kids different experiences, not only to experience nature in a unique way, like up close and personal, but also, having children with disabilities, we never want our older two, Diego and Mateo, to feel like we have to do things differently. We want them to know that just because Joaquin and Sofia have Down syndrome does not mean that we can’t do the things other families do.”
Jennifer and her family are no strangers to travel. They’ve seen and experienced more places than most. But there was something unique about their visit to Wyoming.
“I feel like the nature here is grounding,” she says. “It allows my children to really get in touch with their senses – their sense of sound, touch, smell. That’s hard to accomplish inside the confines of a school building, or a house, or a yard with a fence. When we get in touch with nature and allow them to be in the fields, or in the water, or on the mountains, they learn more about themselves and they learn what their abilities are and some of their strengths and maybe some of their areas of need. It’s a chance to become more self-aware.”
Ryan explains that Wyoming has that kind of impact on a lot of people.
“Someone with a disability who comes here doesn’t have to fight against the preconceptions that they might have back home. The vast open space of Wyoming allows people to take that deep breath and explore themselves, be curious about what they’re capable of. When you come to Wyoming, the possibilities are somewhat endless. And what I see in people is that things that used to be obstacles in their lives become opportunities instead. They can be just like anyone else. They can be a part of the world around them, and it’s an incredible transformation to see.”