Brie Birdsell: Getting Outdoors Again
Brie Birdsell loves to explore the outdoors while moving her body, and adaptive mountain biking provides her the opportunity to do just that. Injured two years ago while hiking, Brie uses a wheelchair in everyday life and a walker or forearm crutches when ambulating. She has found it difficult to explore the outdoors the way that she would like to.
“It’s challenging, because I’m an outdoor person and accessibility to outdoor spaces is not always the greatest, especially in a small town, where I live,” she shares.
Brie lives in Deep River, Ontario and growing up in British Columbia she was an avid camper and hiker who enjoyed frequent dips in cold lakes. For that reason, it has become her goal to find ways to get outside again, to enjoy fresh air and get moving as much as possible.
This past summer, she discovered her love for adaptive mountain biking.
“I’ve always been interested in trying it out, but looking online at what’s available makes it discouraging because some of these bikes can go for upwards of $20,000, so it’s not very affordable compared to bikes for able-bodied riders.”
In September, Brie learned about an adaptive mountain biking event in Vermont put on by Green Mountain Adaptive Sports and decided to give it a go, along with her friend Chelsea who also has an SCI. The pair met through their in-patient physiotherapist at the Ottawa Rehab Centre, who saw both their interests in getting outdoors again and connected them.
“The event was fantastic. It took place over a weekend and I got to try about eight different bikes. I explored what works for me and what doesn’t. There are so many variations of adaptive mountain bikes! Some had 2 wheels in front and 1 in the back (tadpole), others 1 in front and 2 in the back (delta). Some you pedal with your hands, others with your legs (depending on your level of ability), and others are full throttle with no pedaling. There were different levels and types of e-assist motors, and various other aids to help customize the bike to your body so you can have the best ride possible. Most of the adaptive mountain bikes you sat with your legs out in front of you, but there were also ones where you are kneeling! Those bikes were really cool,” says Brie.
Reflecting on the event, she shares that it filled her with a sense of joy and community. There were twenty-one disabled athletes present from Canada and the US, and just as many able-bodied riders there to support them. The camp-out weekend allowed an opportunity for bonding over a shared love of the outdoors and bikes. There was tons of info-sharing taking place, and Brie said that it was just magical to see all those wheels around a campfire.
“After the event, I was sad to come home because it made me realize I won’t have this opportunity again unless I get myself a bike. It spearheaded my interest in getting something like that event started here in Ontario,” says Brie.
Brie continues to join forces with her good friend Chelsea in the hope of starting a non-profit for outdoor activities that get people with disabilities outdoors and onto trails.
“A dream would be to fund raise and have a fleet of adaptive mountain bikes that people can take with them out on trails and try them for a weekend,” she shares.
While Brie has plenty of hobbies that range from DIY carpentry to sewing to caring for all her houseplants, she shares that nothing compares to the benefits of being out exploring in nature.
“A lot of us with SCIs love to do adventurous things outdoors and adaptive mountain biking is a sure way to get our sense of adventure back. Also, the camaraderie within the adaptive biking community is simply phenomenal.”
Brie and Chelsea are keen to hear from people in the SCI and disability community if they would like to join forces to make outdoor adventuring more accessible, or would be interested in trying adaptive mountain biking. They can be reached at [email protected]