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Getting Them Out and About

Monthly Program Helps Neurogically Challenged

Hanover — Jake Quigley is showing it requires only the right frame of mind to improve life through the outdoors.

As vice-president of Outdoor Mindset — a national nonprofit the Hanover resident co-founded while living in Colorado three years ago — Quigley leads monthly outdoor adventures for members who’ve been affected by neurological challenges.

Diagnosed with epilepsy at age 11, Quigley, now 40 and an avid mountain cyclist, telemark skier and backpacker, said exposure to the natural environment and physical exercise have been an integral part of coping with the condition positively. He now aims to help those suffering from neurological dysfunctions or challenges — metastatic brain tumors, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, to name a few — to experience the same benefits.

“Some people who are very active, after they get diagnosed, they think, ‘Oh my God, now all of a sudden I’m limited,’ ” said Quigley, who moved to the area with his wife, Jeanie Ringelberg, while she pursues a degree from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College. “Our hope is to show them that they don’t have to be limited, to change their perspective so they realize that the diagnosis only affects you as much as you allow it.”

Comprised mainly of patients referred to him by doctors in Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s Neurology Department, Quigley’s groups have been meeting every third Saturday since last July. Outings have included hiking, rock climbing and fly fishing, among other activities, with a cross country ski adventure planned for Feb. 16.

Based in Boulder, Colo., Outdoor Mindset has 220 members spanning 23 states. Both those suffering from the neurological challenges, as well as caretakers and family members of those affected, are welcome to join. Membership is free.

While many hospitals and treatment centers provide optional support groups for those coping with illness, Outdoor Mindset aims to cater to those with an inkling for an active lifestyle.

“We’ve found that some of the typical support groups in hospitals don’t speak to every individual,” Quigley said. “They’re interested in different kinds of activities and enjoy being outside.”

Outdoor Mindset members are paired with individual “guides” — someone who shares similar outdoors passions and may have suffered from the same neurological challenge.

Quigley was matched up with Diane Van Deren, a successful ultrarunner and epileptic who underwent the same temporal lobectomy procedure as Quigley. After suffering from seizures for 28 years, Quigley has been free of them since his surgery two years ago.

“It was unbelievably helpful to work with Diane,” Quigley said. “I met with her every week and she told me about all the different tests and what to expect. It was great to get her perspective.”

Quigley is now a guide for Claremont resident Jennifer Thompson, 38, a Unity Elementary School teacher who was diagnosed with epilepsy two years ago.

Thompson was joined the group’s monthly outings since a December ascent of Mount Kearsarge, when conditions were cold and windy.

“We definitely braved the elements that day, but I feel like that’s part of what the organization is all about,” Thompson said. “You learn to adapt to the conditions and the challenges.”

Thompson has taken on a role as a recruiter and organizer, hoping to help Quigley enhance the program in the Upper Valley through increased membership and expanded outings. While as many as 10 members have participated in a group trip, 4-5 is more typical.

“Like any start-up non-profit, we’ve started small but we’re hoping to grow,” Quigley said. “It can be a slow process, but if you look at Vermont and New Hampshire, there’s so much to do in the outdoors and there’s a population here that loves the outdoors.”

While rock climbing is perhaps the most extreme activity the group has embarked on, Quigley and Thompson understand that not everyone who loves the outdoors is ready for such a challenge. They’re hoping increased membership will lead to more ideas for outings that cater to every type of outdoors enthusiast.

“We know that some people are coping with conditions that are more dramatic than others,’ ” said Thompson. “But the great thing about this group is that it allows members to look past their conditions and focus on something they’re passionate about.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.