Volume 44 | Number 1 | Spring 2014

Getting Outside

Skiing and rafting with people who have disabilities was never part of Bob Ellis's master plan.

Spring 2014 Issue | By Emily Frandsen

Bob Ellis, '04, director of CW HOG or Cooperative Wilderness Handicapped Outdoor Group, walked into the Idaho State University Outdoor Program office as a student and signed up for an event. Later, someone asked him to take a course to help teach adaptive skiing. He was hooked.

"It changed my life forever," he said. "Before, I thought people with disabilities didn't do things in the outdoors. I had labeled those activities they can't do."

Today, Ellis can be found skiing with a paraplegic 12-year old, or guiding a raft with a University student in a wheelchair. Since 1981, the CW HOG program, part of ISU's Outdoor Adventure Center, has provided opportunities for people with and without disabilities to experience outdoor adventures together. Each summer, HOGs, as participants often call themselves, can be found tackling whitewater rapids, and each winter, they hit the mountains, skiing. Over the more than three decades since the program began, participants have taken trips that most people never attempt — in 1998 Tom McCurdy, '98, was one of 13 people on his team who climbed to the base camp of Mount Everest.

When people do something they didn't think they could do, it affects every aspect of their life.
— Bob Ellis

McCurdy became a paraplegic in 1987. Before he took his first CW HOG trip, he spent a few years depressed about his loss of mobility, and thinking about the things he could no longer do. In 1989, he decided to attend Idaho State University, and in 1990, took his first CW HOG trip. Since then, he has climbed Mount Kilamanjaro twice, once with each of his children.

"Once I got around the infectious optimism of the people I met through CW HOG, my attitude turned around," he said. "My life is much more satisfying because of it."

The optimism and willingness to adventure is contagious, Ellis said. CW HOG is unique compared to other programs, in part because of its philosophy that everyone, both able-bodied and those with disabilities, work together to make trips a success.

"We do things with people, not for people," he said.

That attitude of cooperation is one of the things Emilee Knudson loves about the program. She found CW HOG when she was 14 and moved to Pocatello from Utah. She was a skier, and was looking for an adaptive ski program so she could continue her passion.

Knudson, who graduated from ISU's paralegal program this spring, never had plans to go whitewater rafting, but Ellis talked her into it.

"I went, and I loved it," she said.

The trips build confidence, Knudson says. When people do something they didn't think they could do, Ellis says, it affects every aspect of their life.

"It plants the seed in their heads. They think, 'well, if I can do that, maybe I can do something else too."

Knudson loves the idea that on trips, such as the whitewater expedition she took last summer, everyone does something.

"You just feel like you're part of a group. We're just all friends," she said. "We all do our part. We all help out, and we all have our assigned duties. I don't get a freebie because I'm in a chair."

For McCurdy, the idea of cooperation is a huge attraction. He started in the program to learn how to ski again, and today he skis on his own with his kids, and occasionally returns to CW HOG to help teach skiing. McCurdy has watched people participate in CW HOG programs and become Paralympians. Annually, thousands are a part of the program through trips, classes and fundraising events.

"The program is geared towards everyone achieving their greatest independence," he said.

CW HOG is just one of many programs offered at the Outdoor Adventure Center at ISU.

The Sport Science and Physical Education program offers a major in physical education with an outdoor education emphasis, and many of the classes, from technical skills in rock and ice climbing, kayaking, mountaineering, cross country and telemark skiing, Dutch oven cooking, winter and wilderness survival, adaptive skiing, adaptive fitness to avalanche safety and more, are taught through the Outdoor Adventure Center.

The Center is not only for seasoned outdoorsmen. The Center offers weekend camping, hiking, rafting, skiing and other activities for beginners and advanced adventurists.

The trips offered through the Outdoor Adventure Center are based on Cooperative Adventure philosophy, meaning all group members work together and participate in different aspects of the trip. The Outdoor Adventure Center leader is responsible for safety, but participants share in the planning, organization, packing and work involved in the trip. The goal, director Dana Olsen- Elle says, is to help participants learn new skills.

For students, faculty, staff and community members who want to enjoy the outdoors on their own, the Outdoor Adventure Center offers rentals for everything from snowshoes and rafts to ice skates and canoes. The Center's yurt system offers five rental yurts across the Portneuf range for those seeking a weekend winter getaway.