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Disabilities 'can't' hinder sense of adventure

Families and students experience outdoors through nonprofit organization, Common Ground

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Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014

Updated: Friday, February 21, 2014 13:02

Common Ground Dogsled

photo courtesy of Common Ground

Dogsleds carry passengers who visit Wyoming with Common Ground.

The word “can’t” is not part of the vocabulary at Common Ground Outdoor Adventures.


Common Ground volunteers will accompany participating adults with disabilities in the annual dogsled race in Jackson Hole, Wyo. this weekend, Feb. 21-23. The race is just one of the extreme adventures Common Ground facilitates throughout the year.


“People start asking about this trip in June,” said Bryce Patten, Common Ground program director and USU graduate. “We usually get about 15 participants that come dogsledding with us, then about seven staff and volunteers to help out.”


Founded in 1993 and established as a nonprofit in 1997, Common Ground provides “life-enhancing outdoor recreational opportunities for youth and adults with disabilities,” according to its website. Activities include snowshoeing and skiing in the winter and hiking and whitewater rafting in the summer.


Patten, who will have been with Common Ground for six years in April, said the 12-mile dogsled run is a “fantastic experience for everyone.”


“You know, there are not that many people that get to go dogsledding,” he said.

Based on ability, participants drive the sleds or sit in the basket, eye-level with the dogs pulling them, Patten said. The participants stay at the Teton Science School, and the dogsled race is made possible through Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours, Patten said.


“I don’t know how many years it’s been, maybe 15, something like that,” said Frank Teasley, owner of Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours. “They’ve basically pretty much become family with us. I mean, they know the dogs’ names and they’re returning clientele every year.”


Teasley began his tours in 1979 with seven dogs. He now has 187 dogs and said he receives daily tour requests throughout the week. He said he shares a good relationship with Common Ground.


“I guess the most important thing is that most of these people could not get out and experience the public lands the national forest at this time of year if we weren’t able to accommodate them,” Teasley said. “It’s worth it to us. It’s just a good cause.”


Common Ground intern Jordan Pease, a senior in social work at USU, said dogsled drivers, or mushers, teach participants the dog calls so the participants can be more engaged in the experience.


“In that sense, we don’t hold their hands,” Pease said. “We treat them the way we would treat anyone without a disability and expect them to pay attention and learn.”

Pease began interning at Common Ground in August 2013. His first Common Ground experience, however, dates back several years to when he was a participant, he said.

Pease has arthrogryposis multiplex congenita.


“It’s a hardening in the connective tissue between the joints,” Pease said of his disability. “You can’t bend your joints; your muscles have nowhere to go so they deplete.”

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