Although a 1988 cliff-diving accident left him paralyzed from just above the waist to his toes, Matt Feeney isn’t “confined” to anything—at least not in the traditional sense. In 1999, he cofounded Adaptive Adventures, a nonprofit organization in Evergreen, Colorado, dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults with disabilities and their families through outdoor sports and recreation. Today, Feeney acts as the organization’s associate program director and outreach director, roles he juggles along with his own recreational passions—alpine skiing, cycling, and wakeboarding.
Q. What is the best part of your job?
A. Working with people who face the similar challenges in their lives that I do, especially children. Getting children with disabilities involved in sports and recreation and seeing them grow and develop is very rewarding. Adaptive recreation for children is important in that it increases self-esteem and fitness and creates a sense of accomplishment that often carries over into other facets of their lives.
Q. What keeps you motivated in your work?
A. Topher Downham, a 26-year-old quadriplegic from Boulder, Colorado, has been a personal source of inspiration for me. Because of a lack of arm strength, hand function, and trunk control, quadriplegics who want to alpine ski typically use a device called a bi-ski [two skis mounted on a sit-down frame] and often require assistance while skiing. Although Topher started out skiing in a bi-ski, his goal of being more independent was realized when he tried mono-skiing [where individuals sit in a seat mounted to a single ski and use hand-held outriggers]. He has been tearing up the slopes ever since. He is one of only a handful of quadriplegics in the world who mono-ski, and he improves at every ski camp he attends. The mono-ski is the most versatile piece of sit-down equipment and requires the greatest balance and strength to operate.
Q. What has been the hardest thing about working for Adaptive Adventures?
A. We are very successful with respect to our vision of reaching many people with disabilities and being a resource to other organizations, but it is often difficult to get the necessary funding to do so.