Big wave of support for islands accessibility

Thea Borserio didn’t know how long it might take to raise $12,000 for a pair of adapted wheelchairs on Haida Gwaii.

By Andrew Hudson

Haida Gwaii Observer

Thea Borserio didn’t know how long it might take to raise $12,000 for a pair of adapted wheelchairs on Haida Gwaii — one for hiking, one for paddleboarding.

A few months, maybe. Weeks for sure.

But the support came like a riptide.

“I think we reached our goal in less than 24 hours,” she said.

“It’s so incredible.”

In fact, after just four days, the online campaign raised nearly $16,000 — enough to buy both pieces of equipment and help with shipping and training, too.

“Haida Gwaii people and friends are crazy AMAZING!” wrote one of the 100-plus supporters.

Thea said she first heard about the TrailRider — a wheelchair made for hiking trails — and thought it would be a great way for her mother Katie to explore the beaches and forests of Haida Gwaii again.

A fan of all things outdoors, Katie is living with ALS, a motor neuron disease that affects how muscles work.

With a single, wheelbarrow-type wheel and grips for two helper-hikers at front at back, the TrailRider has been used to hike Mount Kilimanjaro, even the West Coast Trail.

Thea said the original goal was to get a TrailRider for her mother, but her family quickly thought of all the other people on Haida Gwaii who could use it, whether they share a similar diagnosis or have the mobility issues that can come with age.

“There are lots of nonnis and chinnis who can’t go out to the beach anymore, or up the Spirit Lake Trail,” said Thea.

“So we thought that to have it accessible to us, but also to anyone else living here who wants to experience the outdoors would be fantastic.”

Thea later heard about the OnIt Ability Board — a paddleboard with a pair of outriggers that can support a paddler in a wheelchair.

It would also suit her mother and others on Haida Gwaii, especially since her brothers Luke and Kye have water safety training and guiding experience through their eco-tourism company Kitgoro Kayaking.

Thea, an occupational therapist, had some colleagues who told her about Access Revolution, a North Vancouver group that promotes outdoors access for people living with disabilities.

Founder Jordan Kerton has been working to make the outdoors more accessible to people living with disabilities for 16 years.

The TrailRider has improved in that time, she said, becoming lighter and more compact, while newer innovations like the OnIt board are opening up other pursuits.

Asked what it’s like to be one of the helpers on a TrailRider hike, Kerton, an experienced climber and trekker, said it’s one of her favourite things to do.

“There’s something about being out in the woods and sharing that experience with people, and the physical challenge involved,” she said, talking about a TrailRider hike she joined two weeks ago along the Sunshine Coast.

“It’s a profound experience for everyone involved.”

Thea said the TrailRider will likely arrive on Haida Gwaii in a few weeks, while the OnIt Board may take a little longer.

Both will be stored at the Kitgoro Kayaking shed on Spruce Point in Queen Charlotte, and can be borrowed by calling Kitgoro at 250-638-2843.

“We really want people to know that this is for all the communities of Haida Gwaii, and we are so blown away, so thankful for all the support,” said Thea, who is excited for the next step — hiking the Pesuta trail with her mother again.

“It’s really heartwarming to see how communities have come together to support an idea like this, and make Haida Gwaii a little more accessible.”