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Flying high, feeling good after Access Challenge

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A terrible accident on a Venezuelan tour bus may have stopped Alexis Chicoine from walking again but it wasn’t going to stop her from climbing up Black Tusk.

Three and a half years ago the accident altered her life irrevocably and left her quadriplegic. Though many things changed for her in an instant, her love for camping and reveling in B.C.’s outdoors remained the same.

Last week for the third year in a row, Chicoine spent two days camping at Black Tusk with help from her family and friends.

"I’ve always loved doing things like this," she said, a little dusty and tired after completing the 2003 Access Challenge, Aug. 19-21.

Six teams made up this year’s Access Challenge, a program that is organized by the British Columbia Mobility Opportunities Society. Each team is made up of five people, one of whom has a severe physical disability.

The disabled members of the team travel in Trailriders, which are wheelchairs specifically designed for adventure in the outdoors.

The Trailriders can tackle steep and rocky terrain and their design also allows the other teammates to "sherpa" their disabled teammate up the mountain.

"Anything is possible," said Susanne Olovson, program manager of the Access Challenge.

"If there’s a will, there’s a way.

"I think we should all have the opportunity to see Black Tusk at night under the stars."

This year was the fifth annual Access Challenge and participants not only saw the stars at Black Tusk they were also treated to a show of the Northern Lights.

The three-day trek covered roughly 40 kilometres and more than 4,000 vertical feet.

By mid-day on the third day Olovson waited nervously at the edge on the Cheakamus River for the teams to come down the mountain.

Two zip lines, manned by volunteers from North Shore Search and Rescue and Coquitlam Search and Rescue, were suspended high above the rushing Cheakamus River. This was the final hurdle in the Access Challenge.

Around 2 p.m. Chicoine’s team, the Kermode Express, made up of her father Roger, her brother Chris and friends Sandor Kamlos and Garry Stock, were the first to zip across the river to cheers from the crowd. They were tired and dirty and totally elated.

There were no points for first place reminded Olovson as she gave Chicoine a big bear hug.

"Whatever!" said Chicoine, happy to be the first to complete this year’s Challenge.

Looking back Chicoine said the first day was really intense as the team figured out how to work together effectively while negotiating very steep terrain. Team Kermode Express may have had the upper hand on that day as most of the team members had participated in previous Access Challenges.

The second day was a little easier she said because it’s not as steep and they could enjoy the scenery on their way to the Helm Creek campsite.

Along the route that day five teams went down to Garibaldi Lake but Kermode Express travelled up the Panorama Ridge, where they had the chance to chill out on glacier snow. This was one of the highlights of the trip, said Chicoine.

The third day was a grunt down 20 kilometres of rocky terrain with some tough obstacles, like narrow switchbacks and narrow logs over creeks.

Chicoine said one of the hardest parts about the trek to Black Tusk is keeping everyone’s spirits from flagging throughout.

"(The hardest challenge is) keeping the mood up and keeping the teamwork going," she said.

For five consecutive years now the Access Challenge has been coming to Whistler to tackle Black Tusk

Olovson said the event has been welcomed very generously in the resort.

She added, "I think it brings awareness in the community."

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