A nonprofit in New Mexico is devoted to serving to individuals with disabilities get pleasure from free out of doors adventures »Albuquerque Journal
On June 20th, the first day of summer, Chris Gallegos took the drift fishing boat out onto the San Juan River.
Gallegos, an experienced fishing guide in San Juan, knows the river, where the rocks are and how the water flows on different routes.
But the boat, custom built for the first time that day, was new to him. It has been designed so that the rear end falls down to allow access for fishermen in wheelchairs.
The two fishermen that day, both in wheelchairs, were Dustin Berg (36) from Rio Rancho and KC Henthorn (32) from Albuquerque.
Berg is the founder and CEO of GO Unlimited, a New Mexico nonprofit that helps people with disabilities participate in free outdoor adventures, adaptive sporting events, and group outings. Henthorn is an avid participant in GO programs.
“It was pretty exciting for all of us,” said Henthorn of the June fishing trip. “It was my first time drift fishing, but it was also the first time a boat was on the water. Everyone finds out the boat. Chris ran it. “
Berg said Gallegos did a good job maneuvering the boat over the four miles of river they traveled that day. That day took Berg back to a time before the motorcycle accident in the North Valley, which robbed him of his ability to walk at the age of 19.
“My father taught me how to fly on the San Juan fish when I can walk,” said Berg. “At that time I ran across the river with waders. But by the time we got this boat, it was about 20 years since I had access to the river that way, the beauty of it. “
Find the possible
Berg was 21 when he started GO Unlimited. The motto of the organization is “Adapt, overcome, be successful” and is based on Berg’s own approach to dealing with his disability.
“Suffering such an injury is really traumatic,” he said. “Just trying to do what is necessary is a challenge. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew I had to give everything I got. That’s something I always have with me – looking at the positive.
“Give it 100% or you’ll never find out what’s possible.”
Nature has always been an important part of his family’s life, so finding ways to fish and camp despite his disability was an important part of Berg’s personal rehabilitation program.
He founded GO Unlimited to create adaptive fishing trips across New Mexico for people with spinal cords and similar mobility impairments. In addition to the new drift fishing boat, the organization has a wheelchair-accessible pontoon boat.
“Fishing is exactly what you say you will do,” said Berg. “It’s all about having fun and being outside.”
A sight to see
And now, fishing is only part of what GO Unlimited is all about. The program has been expanded to include off-road trekking, camping, hand-cycling, hunting, horseback riding and game viewing.
GO Unlimited’s Therapeutic Recreation program, funded primarily by Lovelace UNM Rehabilitation Hospital, features archery, wheelchair basketball, bowling, a monthly support group meeting, and trips to Albuquerque Isotopes baseball games, New Mexico United soccer games, the zoo, the aquarium and much more.
Henthorn has done at least a half-dozen GO Unlimited fishing trips, attended Isotopes and United games with the organization, and participated in nights of bowling.
“You have seven people bowling in wheelchairs and it’s a sight to see,” he said.
There is no charge for the people who operate GO Unlimited, people aged 4 or 5 to 70 years and older.
The organization is mainly supported by contributions from companies, citizen groups and the private sector. The wheelchair-accessible drift fishing boat was funded by a grant from the Kelly Brush Foundation.
“I didn’t have to pay anything except gas money and a motel,” said Henthorn. “This is important for wheelchair users, who often have a steady income. (GO Unlimited) has almost everything – snacks, water, equipment. On fishing trips we ate what we caught and lit the grill at night. “
Henthorn was 27 years old when he sustained a spinal cord injury in a motocross accident with a dirt bike.
“I’ve been injured for five years,” he said. “I had to give up some things in my life. Some doors close and others open. “
Henthorn grew up hunting and fishing with his father.
“For me, being outside is just as important as physical therapy, exercise and healthy eating,” he said. However, he believes that GO Unlimited’s capabilities are also good for people who are new to outdoor activities.
“Sixteen months after breaking my back, I was back at work (at a grocery wholesaler in Albuquerque) that I had before the accident,” he said. “But other people are not so lucky. I wish more wheelchair users were motivated to go outside because the resources are there.
“When you see that you can relax outdoors, you might think, ‘I can go out and get a job. ‘”
Ready to rock
During a normal year, GO Unlimited offers two to four activities per week, according to Berg. But 2020 wasn’t a normal year. He said the coronavirus pandemic had really hit the program.
“Our therapeutic recovery programs have all but been discontinued,” he said.
And apart from trips like the June 20th trip, which is mostly planned as a trial run for the new boat, it wasn’t a great summer for fishing.
“It no longer happens to bring six men together in wheelchairs,” said Henthorn.
Berg said GO Unlimited made the most of downtime by training volunteers and focusing on peer mentoring to connect people with disabilities with resources and with people more experienced in dealing with physical limitations.
Berg was forced to host meetings through Zoom and Google Meet, and found that this way the organization reached a wider audience.
“People from rural New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, and California have joined us,” he said. “We’ll keep that. This pandemic was unfortunate, but there are silver linings. It’s what you take and make of it. “