While it would have been extremely easy to just sit back and let her new life unfold in front of her, Amber took the “bull by the horns” and did get her butt back out there. Whether it was the extremely positive support from her family, the constant pick-me-ups from her physical therapist, or just the fact that she felt like she had to prove something, the Amber of the future was ready to go. She came back to Colorado to ski with the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center’s (BOEC) Adaptive Ski & Snowboard Program, something she refers to as a “life-changing experience.” While she had experienced some adaptive skiing on “garbage mounds in Wisconsin,” early on, the four days on the hill with BOEC staff in the winter of 2019 were game-changing.
“Putting my trust in the (BOEC) instructors and volunteers in an extreme situation like that was a new feeling for me,” says Amber. “We were getting on huge lifts, going up into the mountains, and weren’t going to be back for a while. It is a great team-building experience, the trust, the relationships, the connections. Even just sitting on the chairlift for brief moments with the interns or instructors. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience.”
Then, last summer, in July 2021, perhaps her most extreme experience to date came knocking. Amber’s partner, Ryan Helgerson, a Navy veteran, found out about BOEC’s Heroic Military Program for veterans. Designed to meet the unique needs of those who have been injured while serving our country and are now faced with new challenges associated with recovery, this program seemed to be a great fit. And because family members are critical to the healing process, Amber was invited to participate in the Heroic Families River Trip for four days of camping and rafting the Colorado River with fellow veterans and their families. Neither she nor Ryan had ever been in the backcountry like this, so they were both amazed, to say the least. Not only were they impressed with the teamwork and leadership skills displayed by the BOEC staff members during the trip itself, but with the extreme caution and professionalism shown by the BOEC when considering Amber’s application.
“When it was time to plan the trip, the BOEC mentioned that it’s not typical for quadriplegics to be able to go on excursions like this,” Amber says. “It was a concern from the start, so it made me feel good that I wasn’t just signing myself up with just anybody. There were red flags, so that made me feel good and it reassured my family that they (BOEC) are professional, know what’s going on, and want to be prepared for what’s coming.”
The couple went on the trip and were in awe of the entire experience. Ryan, in particular, had never been around a military support group before and was pleasantly surprised by the experience. The connection to the other veterans and exposure to the elements was new ground to cover for the veteran. Amber saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime experience for her beau.
“He had no idea there were programs like this,” says Amber when she brought the subject up to Ryan. “When he realized that we were going to go on this rafting trip and they’re going to provide a stipend – you don’t have to worry about your flight or what you’re going to eat – he was taken aback by it. He didn’t believe me, he thought I was lying.”
“It was easily one of the best experiences of my life, being out there in nature separated from all of the distractions in life,” says Helgerson. “The trip really built me as a person and has helped me to be mindfully present and enjoy the world around me.”