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Zia: The Fantastic Adaptive Philmont Adventure

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

A Zia participant climbs the rock wall at the COPE course on June 29, 2023 at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M. Photo by Caroline Fallin.

This year marks the third year of the Zia Experience, an adaptive Philmont adventure for Scouts with disabilities, presented in conjunction with the Adaptive Special Needs conference at the Philmont Training Center. These two groups work together to help Scouts experience the great programs at Philmont and bring relevant information back to their home councils.

At the start of the week, participants enjoyed taking day trips to the T-Rex Trail and Lover’s Leap. For Jason Wenner, an Eagle Scout who uses a wheelchair due to his Cerebral Palsy, these were some of the first opportunities to use “The Beast,” an outdoor all-terrain motorized wheelchair, purchased for Philmont by the National Special Needs and Disabilities Committee.

“I can’t even put him back in the car.” said Jason’s father Warren. “He used to love the bumps of the car. But the bumps on this thing are very cool for him.”

For Jason’s family, the most significant moment of the week was at the climbing wall. With the help of Chris Werhane, an adaptive sports lead for Adaptive Adventures, and COPE Director Brian Seibert, they created a rig to help Jason climb the wall. When Jason reached the top, he gave a thumbs up in celebration of the accomplishment.

To Jason’s mom, Linda, this feat was joyfully overwhelming. “With the help of everybody, he got to go up almost to the top of the climbing wall. That was the biggest thing that I think we have ever done. It was very exciting.”

Mike Runholt, a conference participant with Cerebral Palsy, was also given the opportunity to try the climbing wall. His friend Ozzy, who had climbed the wall at the same time, celebrated their success, exclaiming “We made it!”. Ozzy said that the climbing wall was his favorite activity.

“Because Ozzy hadn’t been able to attend a traditional summer camp, we thought this might be his chance to have an alternative to summer camp.” explains Diane Caballero, Ozzy’s mother. “He really enjoyed the shooting [sports], which I’d never even thought he would be able to do or would want to do. But he absolutely loved it.”

A Zia participant adds marshmallows to their banana boat creation on June 30, 2023 at the Stockade within Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M. Photo by Aspen Adams

The Adaptive Special Needs Conference members got to participate in classes and interact with Zia participants throughout the week, giving them the chance to put their new knowledge into practice. Course content is revised each year to stay up-to-date with current research and topics of interest in the special-needs community. This creates an exciting and valuable experience for all attendees, regardless of whether they are a newcomer or returning member. Conference participant Sue Jacintho, for example, has attended all three years and is thinking about showing up again for the fourth.

“The first time I came here, I was looking at setting up a Disabilities Committee within my council down in Southern New Mexico. It gave me a lot of information, a lot of resources, a lot of contacts that I could go with. The second time I came, we were integrated with the Zia Experience for the first time. That was so much fun! We had a lot of hands on experience, instead of classroom, I highly recommend it. This year, it also changed again. We got so much done, and we met so many interesting people. And of course, it’s all about the youth. It’s got to be about the youth.”

The largest joy of the Adaptive Special Needs course and the Zia Experience is the way all the adult conference members become friends and see how the Zia participants grow together.

“By the end of the course, we’re all friends,” said Jacintho. “When the youth come in, they’re socially shy, and do not know how to interact. And usually by day three, they’re out in the playground playing with the rest of the youth that are here for different courses.”

“If we never had this Zia experience, it would have been a loss for us.” said Caballero. “So, we want other people to know about this experience.” Conference participant Corey Yasuda recommends this course for “people involved at all levels within our Scouting leadership, because everyone needs some adaptations in helping anyone move forward in Scouting.”

As Philmont continually adapts to participant needs, there is a promising future for this program: a Zia Trek. While there are still many things that need to be arranged, there is a very real possibility that as soon as next year, some Zia participants may be earning their own Arrowhead patches!

A Scout cooks banana boats in a Dutch oven on June 30, 2023 at the Stockade, Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M. Photo by Aspen Adams

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