TAHOMA ” A convoy of four-wheel-drive vehicles jacked up on monster rubber tires greeted the guests, who were eager to start a weekend tour of one of the most famous off-road trails in the world.
The participants, two dozen disabled residents of northern California and Nevada, along with their able-bodied caregivers, were invited to join a 25-mile journey on the storied Rubicon Trail.
“The whole idea behind this program is to give people the opportunity to see areas they wouldn’t normally see,” said Jason Berger of Tahoe Vista, a volunteer with Disabled Sports USA, the event’s sponsor.
Berger and his wife, Andrea, have served as guides and organizers for this excursion since its inception seven years ago.
“I’m a volunteer. My mother was with the Soroptimists and I grew up volunteering,” said Berger, a Tahoe native. “You know, I’ve been really fortunate in my life and this is how I want to give back.”
This year’s participants had physical and cognitive disabilities that included cerebral palsy, paraplegia and attention deficit disorder, according to Cindy Smith, a program director with Disabled Sports USA at its Alpine Meadows office.
The weekend trip treated the guests to two nights of camping at Rubicon Springs and swimming Saturday at Buck’s Island Lake.
“He told us this [trip] absolutely changed his life,” Berger said of one participant. “That is what the program was designed for.”
He said without the volunteers and their vehicles, the off-road event could not happen. Twenty-one volunteers brought their four-by-four rigs, some that cost as much as $40,000. The drivers donated their time, vehicles and gasoline.
Berger estimated that 40 volunteers needed eight months to put the event together.
Provisions for the trip were ample. The group brought 800 bottles of water, 60 hamburgers, 40 hot dogs and 120 homemade brownies.
According to Smith, Disabled Sports USA relied heavily on the Bergers to help organize the 7-year-old outdoor odyssey.
“He plays a very involved role,” Smith said. “He is like the trail-boss volunteer.”
The nonprofit organization enlists the Bergers to round up the drivers for the event.
The volunteers help the guests experience something they would not otherwise be able to enjoy. Smith said the agency’s motto, “If I can do this I can do anything,” applies to both the participants and the volunteers.
“Often [the drivers] are delighted to find they get as much out of it as the participants do,” Smith said.
A self-described environmentalist, Berger called his native Lake Tahoe a recreational mecca, and said the program’s guests have a lot of fun.
“The Rubicon is treacherous, and when we get going their jaws are in their laps,” Berger said.
In an e-mail, Smith said state funding was instrumental in helping the off-road program get off the ground.
“The original seed money for our Four Wheel Drive Backcountry Access Program came from a three-year grant of $140,000 from the State of California,” Smith said. “The purpose of the grant was to provide access and educate people on environmentally friendly practices using established off-highway-motor-vehicle trails and roads.”
These days, the program survives mainly through funding from Disabled Sports USA Far West Division’s annual budget, although Berger said it requires significant grassroots involvement and funding.
Off-road enthusiasts like the organizers of the Jeepers Jamboree foot some of the cost of the camp site, and vehicle builders like Tahoe City’s Trent Fabrication and four-wheel-drive clubs like Auburn’s Webilt Four Wheel Drive Club contribute volunteers and materials.
Disabled Sports USA has various outreach programs to encourage participation in its many activities around the world. The nation’s largest nonprofit, multi-sport and multi-disability organization has more than 85 chapters globally and annually serves more than 60,000 people nationwide.
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