By Dianna Hansen, FACT Oregon Program Coordinator located in Bend, Oregon

My husband and I grew up on the McKenzie River. It was 55 miles to the nearest grocery store. We didn’t have any type of skating rink, movie theater, or mall to hang out at. We hung out outside from dawn to dusk and sometimes beyond. The outdoors was our playground, gym and our therapy, and we have continued that lifestyle ever since.

Fast forward to the birth of our third child…within two hours of her birth, we were delivered three significant diagnoses that included Down syndrome, transit leukemia, and holes in her heart. They gave us information about institutions, told us her average life expectancy was 26 years followed by a list of milestones we could expect to be significantly delayed.

We were immediately assessing how we were going to have to change our lives and give up all the things we knew and loved, especially the outdoors. As she grew and her health stabilized, we were inundated with therapies and specialized toys to help her develop. It, in fact, became our life; appointment after appointment, every day, every week, every month. There was a point when it was all just too much! None of us were happy and all we wanted was our old life back!

That was when we started getting back outside and talking with therapists about how some of the things we loved to do as a family could benefit our daughter. How horseback riding could help strengthen her core and improve her balance, how walking outside was more motivational for her than walking inside. We started going on hikes, horseback rides, camping trips, and all the things we loved to do, incorporating ways to work on her goals while we were at it.  As a family, we all began to breathe again; we were able to feel normal again.

After a good day of being outside, whether it’s horseback riding, kayaking, rafting, or hiking, I always feel more grounded. I sleep better, feel less stressed, and have more patience and clarity, not to mention the exercise I get doesn’t even feel like exercise. I am a better person when I am able to get outside and I want that for my kids, too!

Through the past 13 years, we have been able to expose our daughter to many, many activities, most of which she loves. She skis every Sunday all winter long, rides her horse year-round, kayaks every chance she gets, zip lines, rock climbs, hikes, bikes, swims, and so much more. The outdoors has become for her what it has always been for us. If we had not ever given her the chance to get out and try things, we would have robbed her one of the most important parts of her life. It is that dignity of risk that is so hard as a parent, but so valuable. It allowed her life to be full of rich outdoor activities that she will carry into the rest of her life, giving her joy and health benefits we could have never imagined thirteen years ago.