Out & About: Obstacle course offers just the right challenge for those with disabilities

  • Vinnie Tempel, of Canaan, completes over the Mount Everest obstacle during a Brave Challenge obstacle course race in July in South Burlington. The next Brave Challenge will be held at Hartford High School on Saturday, Sept. 21. (Nicole Tempel photograph)

Valley News Calendar Editor
Published: 8/31/2019 10:06:06 PM

Like many boys, Nicole Tempel’s 7-year-old son has a lot of energy.

It’s been difficult, however, for her to find activities that feel comfortable for Vinnie, who has autism, a developmental condition that can involve various language and social impairments.

“He likes playing sports, he likes being active; it’s just that there’s nothing that really works for him in the area,” said Tempel, who lives in Canaan.

Then she heard about the Brave Challenge, an obstacle course program for people of all ages with cognitive, developmental, physical and emotional disabilities created by Cody TanCreti, a physical education teacher who teaches at Woodstock and Reading elementary schools and also serves as an interim principal in Reading. Jeff Thomas, a longtime Upper Valley coach who currently coaches the Hartford High School boys basketball team, helps organize the events and also serves as a director for the nonprofit organization.

“There’s such a need for something like this in the area for kids who can take advantage of it,” Tempel said.

The next Brave Challenge takes place from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21, at Hartford High School. The event is free, and there are 15 obstacles in the obstacle course.

“We really think about every disability and everybody’s differences as they come up to the obstacle,” TanCreti said. “Even things like anxiety are going to stop an athlete from going over an obstacle. There’s always the option to not do the obstacle and just go around it.”

As a teacher, TanCreti has run adaptive physical education classes to make sure students of different abilities can participate in class and would regularly come up with obstacle courses as an activity. His students responded so well that he started to wonder if it could work on a larger scale in the community.

The first Brave Challenge took place last September in Ascutney, followed by an event this July in South Burlington that was attended by many athletes from the Upper Valley, including Vinnie.

“It gave him the opportunity to step out of his comfort zone and boost his confidence,” Tempel said. “He was beaming with pride, and that speaks volumes.”

At each obstacle, multiple volunteers are present to help an athlete succeed. Obstacles vary and can be adjusted based on each participant’s abilities. One obstacle involves carrying a bucket full of water from one spot to another. For some athletes, the bucket was filled halfway, and for others it was empty.

“They have different levels of intensity,” Tempel said. “Each child will be successful, and that’s a major thing.”

In an obstacle called Mount Everest, participants climb over a 6-foot wall using a rope.

“It’s definitely the favorite,” TanCreti said. “Before you know it, they’re at the top of the mountain with this huge smile on their face, and it’s such a rewarding thing.”

Butler Bus Service donated a bus to transport Upper Valley participants to Burlington for the July Brave Challenge, which included many people who regularly attend events organized by the Special Needs Support Center in Lebanon.

“I feel like there’s energy and excitement in the community right now around really changing the social norms and achieving a more welcoming community where people with disabilities are really connected and supported,” said Laura Perez, executive director of the nonprofit organization. “The Brave Challenge is a really important part of that.”

Perez noted that obstacle courses have become popular and the Brave Challenge allows people with disabilities to share in that activity.

“Recreation and physical activity is really important for everyone, but often people with disabilities are left behind and don’t have the same opportunities as their neurotypical peers,” Perez said. “It was a great way to support physical health, emotional health ... for our community.”

The social benefits are also apparent for parents and participants, who get to interact with people who understand their lives and the challenges they face. The families don’t have to worry about being judged. Their only focus is to have fun.

“After completing the course, he went back in line and did it a second time,” Tempel said of Vinnie, who received a medal alongside all the other participants. “They all won. And that’s just a great thing.”

Editor’s note: For more information about the Brave Challenge, volunteering or to register, visit bravechallenge.org. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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