When Claudio Cabrera moved to America from Chile to seek treatment for a spinal cord injury he suffered in a 2007 car accident, he had no idea what his new life would look like.
A once-active athlete in South America, Cabrera suddenly found himself confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
“I had no idea what to do when I first got injured,” Cabrera explained. “It’s a really hard adjustment, but I am a really outgoing guy and I didn’t want to let my injury hold me back.”
Cabrera who was injured in a motor vehicle accident, soon returned to the world of athletics, determined to participate regardless of his injury.
“I have competed in handcycling marathons, and all kinds of different [adaptive] sports that are available to people like me,” Cabrera said.
However, one activity he had once enjoyed seemed to still potentially be out of reach.
“I used to really love hiking. I love being outdoors and in nature, but the options for people with mobility issues to go hiking are almost non-existent,” he said
Cabrera had watched his mother climb the Sleeping Giant trail many times, but each time he would find himself left behind at the bottom of the trail while others walked past him. He soon decided he wanted to know what it was like at the top.
“For most of my life now, I have wanted to ascend Sleeping Giant and get to the tower at the top,” he said. “I knew I wanted to start something for people like me to experience life to the fullest.”
Cabrera submitted a proposal to a group of Quinnipiac University graduate students in the QU physical therapy department. The group was looking for a project that would involve the students in giving back to the community.
“Claudio came to us with his proposal and we knew it was something we had to help with,” said grad student Juliana Noce. “We devised a plan with Gaylord Hospital to help start an organization called Hiking Without Boundaries, whose mission is to ‘fundraise and obtain an adapted wheelchair capable of ascending the Sleeping Giant terrain and provide accessibility to the public.’”
An adaptive chair — the kind that would be necessary in order to help Cabrera ascend Sleeping Giant — can cost as much $4,000, meaning the group had to find a way to raise the funds. Using their business mindset and fundraising skills, they set out to reach their funding goals.
“We never learned in class how to fundraise for an item or how to navigate the legal logistics of operating and storing a wheelchair like this,” said grad student Rachel Hopkins.
“We had to learn fast how to think like a businessperson and get everything we needed. Luckily, we got a lot of help from Gaylord, who agreed to store and maintain the chair as it is needed,” continued Noce.
With Cabrera eagerly waiting, the group successfully raised enough funds to purchase one adaptive wheelchair, and the plan is to test it out at the end of this month.
“We actually just received the check from Gaylord and are going to pick up the chair tomorrow!” said Noce, on Oct. 8. “We are going to start training with it and Claudio, hopefully this week.”
Hiking Without Boundaries still would like to raise enough funds to afford a second adaptive chair, and has shifted all of its focus to raising awareness within the community about the program and what it could mean for local residents.
“Everyone has someone in their life who has mobility issues,” said Cabrera. “It could be your grandmother, sister, friend, anyone. And this allows those people to enjoy life outdoors just like anyone else.”
Cabrera, Noce, and Hopkins are collecting donations for the second chair here; https://gaylordhospital-sportsassociation.everydayhero.com/us/qupt-adaptive-hiking-1.