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Ain’t no mountain high enough

Manasi Mathkar | Updated on February 28, 2020 Published on February 27, 2020

Oh, what a feeling: The differently abled members of Team Zero Zero and Adaptive Climbers on their first climb to Mt Maculot (706 metres) in Batangas   -  Simon Adriano

A Filipino group makes the great outdoors accessible to senior citizens, parents with toddlers and persons with disability

Back in 2013, Simon Adriano went hiking every week in the beautiful outdoors of the Philippines, with a group of fellow enthusiasts who called themselves Nomad Terra Crawlers (NTC). Around this time Adriano also began volunteering at a sports event for wheelchair users. That’s when he was introduced to Gerry Gonzalo, a 47-year-old blind man who was naturally athletic and eager to try a new activity. What followed were enthused conversations and plans, which finally culminated in the group’s first hike with a person with disability or PWD.

On October 10, 2015, Gonzalo hiked to Mt Batulao (811 metres) in the Batangas region, clocking an impressive rate. This spurred Adriano to make the NTC more inclusive. Today, the non-profit organisation successfully conducts mountaineering activities for the young and old alike, especially members of the PWD community.

“We focus on three things as advocacy. First, explore new trails and creating and maintaining jobs to help the local communities. Second, get involved in environmental protection programmes. And third, promoting mountaineering as an inclusive activity for senior citizens, parents with toddlers and PWDs,” Adriano explains.

Over time, NTC found support from other organisations working with PWDs, such as Team Zero Zero, an organisation for blind persons, and Team Adaptive Climbers, which works with differently abled people. Together they now regularly scale peaks around the country — Mt Batulao and Mt Maculot (760 metres) in Batangas; Mt Ngusong Kabayo and Mt Batolusong in Tanay, Rizal; and Mt Isarog (1,966 metres) in Bicol; Mt Pico de Loro (664 metres) in Cavite; Tarak Ridge (1,130 metres) in Bataan; and Mt Kapananan (567 metres) in Rodriguez, Rizal.

It is no mean feat working out the logistics for these treks, but what helps is NTC’s familiarity with the terrain. The group first takes the consent of the parents of the participating children and the local government unit. Next, the cost, precautions, and timetables are finalised. The most challenging part, according to Adriano, is finding the right volunteers. The team needs to vet them carefully for factors such as personality, fitness, experience, comprehension,and articulateness to ensure they make competent guides. The volunteers should not only match the needs of each participant, but also ensure they have a complete experience.

As Daryl Comagon, a guide with NTC, says, “When guiding a PWD, we need to focus on their abilities rather than their weaknesses. You won’t believe how good their balance is! We help them do the unthinkable and impossible, and support them throughout the journey. For instance, I keep motivating them by saying they are an inspiration for everyone. Thus we coax them that, step by step, we can scale the heights together. Pain is temporary, success is forever. They trust us wholeheartedly.”

Asked if the disabled participants undergo any specialised training, Adriano replies in the negative. “Initially there was no specialised training, since we were basically a pioneering group. Wheelchair users, unfortunately, cannot access the hiking trails where we are. They now train for Paralympics, specifically for obstacle course races. As for hiking, there is still no training. They [PWDs] just hike and hike often.”

The organisation is also venturing into events such as the 21-km and 50-km Spartan Race, ASEAN Para Games, full-distance Ironman, Dragon Boat race, and kayak river exploration. “In fact, we have had Jerald, a 17-year-old blind kid, run three 5-km Spartan races so far,” says Adriano.

Describing her experience of scaling mountains in the company of NTC, Klowie Florendo, a 14-year-old member of Team Zero Zero, says, “I learnt to enjoy hiking as much as sighted people do. I learnt to appreciate things around me, to love the mountains. My physical limitations will neither stop me from reaching my dreams nor attaining my goals. I learnt that I can do better, aim higher and believe in myself.”

Echoing her view, Mon Anievas, an amputee, cancer survivor, and father of two who belongs to Team Adaptive Climbers, says, “Through these outdoor activities not only do we experience excitement and adventure with our family and friends, but we also have gained back our self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment.”

NTC has helped several members of Team Zero Zero and Team Adaptive Climbers join the wider sports community by finding a place on the Philippines Para OCR (obstacles course racing) team. Called Team Phoenix, it is the country’s first for Para OCR and continually recruits PWDs for competitions.

Adriano says that apart from a desire to prove they are capable of scaling new heights, the PWD members of his group also love the companionship they enjoy through these activities. “My experience shows that they don’t stop themselves from doing things just because they are blind or missing a limb. Most often, it is us, who are abled, preventing them from even trying just because we always think there’s only one way to do things.”

Manasi Mathkar is a freelance journalist based in Manila

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Published on February 27, 2020
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