'Challenge Alaska' Opens Door to Recreational Adventure

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River rafting is just one of the recreational activities Challenge Alaska provides for persons with disabilities.

A 14-year-old boy exploring an abandoned gold mine near Juneau, Alaska, did not know that his life would soon be changed forever. When he encountered an old electrical tower, Doug Keil's body was jolted with 23,000 volts of electricity. Although the teenager survived the accident, he spent the next two years in the University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle. His left arm and leg were amputated.

A love of life and adventure kept Keil forging ahead. He learned to ski and went on to become a national disabled ski champion in the late 1970s. After winning gold medals in the 1980 Paralympic Winter Games in Geilo, Norway, Keil put his pioneering spirit to good use. He returned to Alaska to develop an adaptive ski school.

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The Sadlerís Midnight Sun Ultra Challenge is the longest wheelchair and handcycle race in the world. Competitors in the 2001 race pedal fast and furiously. Photo by Ian Lawless

Keil co-founded Challenge Alaska, a nonprofit agency in Anchorage which provides recreational opportunities for the disabled. Under his leadership, Challenge Alaska raised over $750,000 to build a first-class adaptive ski chalet at the Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood, Alaska.

Now, 21 years after the organization was founded, Challenge Alaska serves over 1,000 people with disabilities annually. The organization offers a variety of sports and recreational opportunities including skiing, sea kayaking, canoeing, river rafting, fishing, camping, horseback riding, and hiking. Challenge Alaska believes that everyone, regardless of physical ability, should have an equal chance at recreational opportunities.

A highlight of Challenge Alaska is the annual Sadler's Midnight Sun Ultra Challenge, the longest wheelchair and handcycle race in the world. Athletes travel from around the globe to participate in the six-day, 267-mile test of athleticism. "These incredible athletes demonstrate the ability of people with disabilities and inspire hope for all of us as we work to overcome challenges," notes the organization's website: www.challenge.ak.org .

The 2002 race began in Fairbanks on Saturday, July 20, and finished in Anchorage, July 25.

Keil Receives Pinnacle Award

Doug Keil was recently presented with Otto Bock Health Care's Pinnacle Award, which honors outstanding amputees and O&P professionals. Notes the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based company, "These outstanding individuals carry our appreciation for their pursuit of nobler goals and their outward expression of what it means to excel to the limits of our human capabilities. Otto Bock extends its heartfelt appreciation to Doug for inspiring us all by his example of personal determination and humanitarian efforts."

The Pinnacle Awards were founded in 1995 by Springlite, Salt Lake City, Utah. Otto Bock acquired Springlite in April 2001 and is continuing Springlite's Pinnacle Award tradition. Otto Bock will announce a new recipient every quarter; nomination forms can be found on Otto Bock'swebsite: www.ottbockus.com/about/pinnacle_awards.htm .

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