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Leaving the Comfort Zone
by Garrett E. Valenzuela
Jun 04, 2013 | 2076 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Contributed photo -- Mark Wellman's Adventure Day is nearing its 10th year at the Sparks Marina allowing children and adults living with disabilities who are looking to try outdoor sports such as kayaking, sailing, rock climbing and hand cycling.
Contributed photo -- Mark Wellman's Adventure Day is nearing its 10th year at the Sparks Marina allowing children and adults living with disabilities who are looking to try outdoor sports such as kayaking, sailing, rock climbing and hand cycling.
SPARKS -- Mark Wellman may be the first paraplegic to ascend the 3,000-foot face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, but he knows well that accomplishments of that magnitude have to evolve from smaller ones.

“My passion is adventure sports and hopefully I can show these people with disabilities what my passion is,” Wellman said in preparation for his annual Adventure Day. “We are not saying go climb El Capitan, but this adaptive climbing wall might be their El Capitan. For a small child with maybe spina bifida, who hasn’t experienced anything like that, maybe going up 24 feet is like El Capitan.”

Approaching its 10th annual event at the Sparks Marina, Adventure Day has become known as the day-long event for anyone living with a disability who has the urge to try adaptive kayaking, cycling, sailing or rock climbing. Wellman, an avid outdoorsman and motivational speaker, said the free event caters to anyone with a disability.

“Rock climbing can be kind of scary for some but we make it as safe as possible,” Wellman said. “We have different harnessing systems and different ways to make that happen. It allows people with any type of disability to get on the wall.

“You don’t have to be super strong or anything. We have adaptive pulley systems to help anyone who has had a stroke, hemiplegia or quadriplegia.”

City of Sparks Recreation Supervisor Shauna Nelson said Adventure Day, happening from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at Sparks Marina, is about much more than allowing children and adults living with disabilities to try outdoor sports. Sparks Parks and Rec manages several programs and day camps for those living with disabilities and Nelson understands the importance of even the smallest adventure.

“It is good for general health, self-esteem and confidence,” Nelson said. “It helps them interact in society. Sometimes in my camps, we will just go to the mall. It is good for them, and it is also good for the rest of the world, too, to be exposed to people with disabilities. We try to get them out and doing as much as possible.

“We will help them buy things at the store and teach some basic life skills. We make sure we have opportunities for them to do the things that might be a little easier for some of us to do. We take them out and make sure they have the confidence to do anything, whether it is go to Walmart, or ride a handcycle, or a kayak, or whatever the case may be.”

Partnerships with the City of Reno, Disabled Sports Far West, Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Paralympic Sports Clubs of Reno and Lake Tahoe have allowed the event to continue year after year. Sparks Parks and Rec also receives grant money from the Nell J. Redfield Foundation, an organization which Nelson said is “very supportive every year.”

Wellman said the evolution of the event has allowed new devices and adaptive gear to be introduced to frequenters of the event. Wellman said he enjoys the event most when newcomers grace the peninsula of the Sparks Marina and dare to go outside their comfort zone.

“Activities keep evolving over the years and you get better equipment and better ways of doing things and allowing the disabled participants to participate in a better way,” Wellman said of the event’s evolution. “This event is a lot of fun for the whole family of someone with a disability. We don’t turn anybody away.

“(I really enjoy) having new people come out each year. It seems like the word is getting out and the event keeps growing each year. Once we start taking everything down we get that feeling of ‘We had a great day out here.’ They got to try something maybe they thought they could never do, and some of them had to think out of the box a little bit.”

Nelson shared similar thoughts about seeing children and adults who show some discomfort in trying the multiple activities offered at Adventure Day. She said overcoming any sort of apprehensiveness makes the whole day worthwhile.

“It is fun for me to watch people overcome their fears,” Nelson said, “Because I love the ones who watch and watch -- maybe for hours they will watch -- and they keep saying they are not going to do it. Then you finally see them get in a kayak or climb the wall, even if they only climb three feet off the ground, it is a huge deal. To me that is the most exciting part to see them overcome the apprehension.

“If someone comes to this event and says 'I am not touching any of those things,' but something else might be interesting to them, we will have people there who can provide a contact to someone who can help them out with other things.”

Adventure Day takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at the Sparks Marina. For more information, visit or call 353-7815.
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