An avid outdoorsman since childhood, Anand Kannan wasn’t sure how he was going to maintain the quality of life he had come to know so well growing up in Kelowna.
Six years ago, an ATV accident rendered the Kelowna man a paraplegic, and venturing outside for physical activity had suddenly become a considerably more complicated exercise.
Then Kannan discovered the Community Recreational Initiatives Society.
A not-for-profit group founded by Troy Becker in 2001, CRIS Adaptive Adventures provides outdoor recreational activities for people with disabilities of all descriptions.
Kannan was first introduced to CRIS several years ago at a barbecue in Fintry and he’s been a satisfied customer ever since.
“They (CRIS) were out there with some trail riders and they asked if I wanted to give it a try,” Kannan said. “So they harnessed me up in the trail rider, took me up the hill for a ride and it was absolutely amazing. I had a smile on my face so big, it didn’t wear off for a long time. It was then I realized what they could do, the professionals that they were and I felt the security of that.”
And just in case Kannan wasn’t convinced, Becker called him about a month later to invite him to join some CRIS volunteers and several other disabled participants for an eight-day camping trip to Bowron Lakes in the Cariboo.
“I had no idea how it was going to happen, but I had every confidence they could do it,” Kannan said. “I portaged in my wheelchair, they portaged the kayaks back and forth, we got into the water, we tented at night. I didn’t know it was possible, at first it took some time to figure things out, but after that everything seemed natural. We were doing what able-bodied people were doing. The experience was 100 per cent.”
Inspired by his wife Lynnette’s sister, who had Down syndrome, Becker first hatched the concept for CRIS 13 years ago.
With a love of the outdoors and an interest in the well-being of others, Becker went to work on providing outdoor recreational opportunities for people with disabilities.
In the beginning, he had just a kayak and was loaned a trail rider for hiking, all the while running the operation out of the Becker household. In the first year, CRIS served three clients.
“It was based on the idea that there were no limitations on activities in the outdoors for people with disabilities, and no limitations as far as the geographical area goes,” said Becker, who is a firefighter with the West Kelowna Fire Department. “There were no barriers. The same holds true today.”
Since those humble first days, CRIS has grown in leaps and bounds and now serves as many as 100 people with disabilities per year—from two to 92 years old—both inside and outside the Okanagan.
The activities include kayaking, cycling, hiking, paddle boarding, rock climbing, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing, among several others. In addition to the Okanagan, destinations include trips to Alberta, Vancouver Island and into the U.S.
Along with two paid staff members, CRIS Adaptive Adventures functions largely on the work of volunteers who number as many as 200, with about 30 of those donating their time on a regular basis.
The society’s stock of equipment has also grown to the point where CRIS now stores several pieces at a facility in Mission Park, provided by the Central Okanagan Regional District.
The range of people CRIS services on a monthly basis covers a broad spectrum—those with brain injuries, developmental disabilities and physical impairments, among them.
Based on its quiet beginnings, Becker is both humbled and pleased with the progress CRIS has made and the impact it continues to have on people’s lives.
“It is amazing,” said Becker, the president of CRIS. “I never started this really looking at full potential, I didn’t know what I was getting into. To the extent is has grown is astronomical, and the recognition that the association has received from so many agencies. We’ve reached so many people, we’re getting inquiries form overseas,” he continued.
“A lot of people consider the organization a front runner in adaptive recreation and breaking down barriers for people with disabilities. You’re so busy doing it you don’t really think of it that way. But it’s nice to see.”
When it comes to giving thousands of hours of his spare time each year to enrich the lives of others, Becker doesn’t see it as any kind of sacrifice. In fact, Becker insists he benefits from the experience just as much as those he’s providing the service to.
“To see people’s reactions and the smiles it brings to them, to see people’s lives change in front of you, it’s way more powerful than people think…it’s almost addictive,” he said. “When you take someone to the top of the mountain, the first time they’ve ever been to a park or something, their energy feeds you. You may be giving your time, but the reality is you are getting something out it too, and I think that drives everybody who’s involved.”
While the original idea was born from Becker’s vision, he’s hesitant to take much credit for the continued growth and success CRIS has enjoyed, particularly over the last several years.
“I am only one person of a network of people that make the whole ship move,” he said. “It’s the network of people that support the cause and support the idea. It’s a team effort, it’s not a pat on my back, but everybody’s back. I can’t do 18 trips a day. It’s pretty awesome when you think of the scope of it all.”
Dawn Whiddefield, the executive director for CRIS, said while clients with disabilities are the inspiration, it’s the many dedicated, selfless volunteers who are the lifeblood of the local society.
And she says, they all seem to have something in common.
“They tend to be hardworking, outdoors types with an adventure spirit, respect for themselves and the people they work with and the environment they’re in,” said Whiddefield who has been with CRIS since 2012. “There’s a culture of respect and adventure that’s been created (at CRIS) and we’re very proud of that.”
As for the future path of CRIS Adaptive Adventures, Troy Becker believes the sky is the limit.
Still, like any non-profit organization, Becker said funding will dictate, in large part, the direction the organization will take in the coming years. Currently, clients pay only a small portion of the expenses required to carry out each outdoor excursion.
“It’s all funding-based, so that’s always your No. 1 hindrance,” said Becker. “If you made people pay the full pop, that would be unrealistic for them, so we have to continue to find creative and affordable ways to do what we do.
“But I think where the organization is going, and because it’s come so far already, it has an absolutely unbelievable amount of potential.”
Regardless of what the future holds for the local society, Anand Kannan knows firsthand the dramatic difference CRIS can make in people’s lives.
“Making this available to people, it’s a real life-changer,” said Kannan. “You get a smile back on your face. These are the people that have the gear and professionalism, they’re firefighters and rescue people, you know you’re in good hands. They help make people’s lives better.”
For more information on CRIS Adaptive Adventures, visit adaptiveadventures.ca.