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Straight Talk: Christopher Wiegand

Adaptive Adventures’ paddling and cycling manager is changing lives and finding real motivation in the incredible humans he interacts with every day. Meet our “Ultimate Colorado Badass.” 

In the last issue of Elevation Outdoors, we announced the winners in nine categories of our Colorado Resident Badass reader poll. We asked readers to vote again for an Ultimate Badass out of that group. The winner, Christopher Wiegand, is currently the National Paddlesports and Cycling Manager at Adaptive Adventures. But he has a long list of life accomplishments, from establishing a top international youth kayaking club in Colorado and earning recognition as the 2005 Olympic Development Coach of the Year to taking part in paddling and cycling expeditions on mountains and rivers around the world. After experiencing a traumatic brain injury, he shifted his passion for coaching, competition and problem-solving to help other survivors of trauma. He talked to us between sessions of getting disabled people out on bikes.

What’s the most badass thing you have ever done?

Honestly, I can’t even answer that question with one single thing. I did a solo circumnavigation of Vancouver Island in 2009. But that wasn’t really bad ass. It was more about spending lots of time alone in a kayak, camping on beaches, just really relaxing and paddling. I took a group of kids from Iran, Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. to Kenya to spread the Olympic spirit in kayaks just after the 2008 political uprising. I’ve gotten Iranian women in kayaks  to prove that women can be strong, passionate leaders.

How has your life changed since your injury?

It almost makes you want to give up when simple tasks become nearly impossible. You try to wake up, find your routine, go to work, go to bed, see a family—there are points when daily living just goes away. You forget where you are, sometimes almost who you are. Just trying to find the motivation to want to get out of bed some days has been the greatest challenge. Pain can just sometimes lock me up or I have hydrocephalus where my head swells and I get debilitating headaches. So you have to find motivations. And my amazing wife just doesn’t leave my side some days because things aren’t going well for me. 

Other times, I realize, “Wow, I really can push myself and there are no limits that other people can put on me.” But what I love at the end of the day now is being able to coach. I really just enjoy having that community of people with a common goal of trying to accomplish something. And I’ve always always said we’re strongest in a village. I had worked with people with disabilities prior to my injury, but when I became the demographic that I served, it allowed me to really dig deep and find ways to connect to people differently. I can now relate to them with a compassion that drives them instead of just being a high-level athlete or coach who can’t quite understand what gets in the way of success. 

What is the key to Adaptive Adventure’s success? 

We’re celebrating our 20th anniversary this year. Throughout the years, we have been able to make outdoor adventure portable. We can take the great things that we do everywhere from the Rocky Mountains to El Paso, Texas. We have people who tell us, “You know, I’m overweight.” “I have an addiction issue.” “I’m missing both of my legs.” “I’m blind.” “I’m a paraplegic.”  “I can’t get to Colorado to do this stuff.” Outdoor adventure is a fantasy world to them. So we bring the sport to them, to their local parks, to their hospitals, and we say, “Hey, you can do this right here in your backyard.”

How do you reach people through your work?

When you become a disabled person, you push away from everything and everyone. I get that now. I want to say my brain injury is a gift because it’s allowed me to really realize how people have self-limiting beliefs that get in the way of their own success. It always sucks to be disabled, so you have to find these nuggets of goodness. It means everything to help other people come out of their depths and find something so simple as riding a bike or paddling a kayak, to find out that is better than laying on a pillow feeling sorry for yourself.

Who motivates you?

I am so inspired by the people I work with—some of them are people without arms and legs. And I’m like, wow, this is life. I can’t hand you a tougher nugget than missing body parts and then to do all these things like kayaking a whitewater river with no arms—who the hell does that!—or hiking the Grand Canyon blind. It’s these people who have to overcome such personal pain to be able to shut the door on it and realize adventure. And I think the sports industry is chasing people away because it’s the people on top of Mount Everest or running the world’s biggest waterfall or hucking the big flip that are the golden nuggets of success in the outdoors. It really doesn’t need to be that difficult. It’s just about finding that smile in everybody who has reached the level they want to push to—but they shouldn’t be so scared that it pushes them away.

What’s next for you? 

My personal goal is using adaptive cycling to level the playing field and get more people biking around the planet. It’s a mode of transportation. It’s a mode of adventure. So my goal is to spread what I have been able to do in 30-plus states and motivate people to just take a chance and get outside.

Adaptive Adventures is always looking for volunteers and donations to help spread its mission of getting more people outdoors.  

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