NDIS Incredible Impact Of The Year: Hiking – How It Completely Changed Zoe’s Life
I never thought the NDIS would be able to give me the opportunity or ability to do something like this…
Thanks to OpenTrax and the NDIS, blindness hasn’t stopped me from enjoying the great outdoors here in Queensland. They’ve helped and enabled me to embrace my ‘disability and now I’m doing things I never thought possible for someone like me.
During the pandemic, when our worlds became unexpectedly much smaller, many of us got into new hobbies and activities. For me, well…I upped my walking in the bush, hiking most days. Some VERY interesting things happened…
Being vision impaired, I have found that hiking and bushwalking gives me a thrilling sense of adventure that is missing from the safety of urban spaces.
For someone who can’t see, you’d be right in thinking that it isn’t necessarily something that I can do independently…but over the years, it is one of the things that has single-handedly changed the trajectory of my life in the best way possible…I’ll explain how shortly…
But first, let me fill you in on how it all started…
A few years ago, I’d been getting some knee pain that had been progressively increasing and was working with one of the Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEP’s) from OpenTrax to get it sorted. The EP treating me was great and we always had a good chat and he had suggested that one of the programs that they run may be right up my alley.
I did some research and ended up applying for their hiking program after finding out that the hiking one and a whole bunch of other programs they offer are specifically designed for NDIS participants.
Well….my AEP nailed it! Not only did I no longer have knee pain…but that little ‘program’ that they’d suggested ended up beginning my life’s greatest passion.
My EP and I started our first hike on a beautiful morning, just after sunrise (arguably the most beautiful part of the day). I was just admiring the incredible sounds of the forest, when we stopped moving you could hear nothing but the gentle early morning birds singing, rustling leaves in the cool, freshly bush scented breeze. Pure. Bliss.
You just can’t get that kind of peace, stillness and calmness anywhere else. I still often just stop to let everything I can hear, feel, smell have time to soak into every cell.
Hiking is different to the regular, ‘safe’ environment that I expect in urban spaces. A lot of the tracks require some degree of adventurousness – ducking under trees, jumping over rocks, crossing creeks and at times, even climbing on our hands and feet. These aren’t skills I often need when I go about my day to days through the city but I have grown to LOVE what the process of acquiring these different skills means for me. In a funny way, hiking has become a metaphor for life.
Hiking has challenged me so many times over the years now and it has taught me a lot about the fact that it is totally ok, and actually feels AMAZING to get out of your ‘comfort zone.People would always fuss and worry about me when I was growing up because of my vision impairment and they would often ‘over help’ or just plain do the things for me…and I let them…(my devious grin goes right here!).
It’s just the nature of disability sometimes…people might see you struggling or someone will notice that I’m obviously vision impaired and then, you could almost see it happen… a switch would flick and you could just tell that they were going to treat me differently, over helping or making things super easy for me…generally positive things, sometimes not though.
I genuinely am thankful and it’s lovely that they thought enough of me to offer help, assist me in all sorts of ways…some that always made me laugh when it ended up being that they’d made things significantly more difficult by ‘assisting’. Bless them.
…But then, of course, I can’t leave out the people you come across who are strongly giving off the feeling that they’re offering help to relieve their increasingly growing sense of ‘feeling sorry for me’ as I’d get closer…
A few of the funniest interactions came as a result of people who would seemingly have an internal fuse meltdown that was clearly on the same power circuit that ‘how to treat a ‘disabled’ person’ is on.
Maybe they just simply didn’t think that treating me just like they would treat anyone else would be more than fine…but definitely an improvement!
Every time I’d take the easy way out, it made it that little bit harder to choose actively take the harder route and challenge myself. I was taking the easy way out in 10 out of 10 opportunities presented to me. As I am looking back now it feels like it was all a bit ‘cotton ball & bubble wrappy’ type of thing…let me explain…
After putting considerable thought into things as a vision-impaired woman does……you’ve got to remember, my vision capabilities are pretty low which has led me to hone my other senses, to become pretty sharp…
…I’ve thought about this and analyzed it A LOT and it feels like I’ve missed out on being challenged by a lot of those ‘normal’ things that ‘normal’ people growing up just figure out… and yes, of course…if you were wondering, it is because of my disability.
With everyone helping, I didn’t have to work as hard, I didn’t have to try as hard, I didn’t have to, or even feel the need to get out of my comfort zone…let alone the couch…
…I would generously help myself to snacks, and seconds which came as a packaged deal with an increasingly terrifying score on the bathroom scales over the years as I kept letting people walk me down the easy road, knowing I could stop them but… knowing it would be easier if I didn’t…
I felt like I was stuck in this boring routine loop, like my life’s timer was ticking over and I was still sitting there idling at the start line, not having achieved much, not really having any hobbies, activities or things that truly excited me or gave me great joy…
There was nothing much in my life (family relationships excluded) that let me experience the incredible feeling that the satisfaction of being a part of this world can give…Needless to say, I didn’t feel great. I managed to hide it pretty well for ages. No one would have ever known…I didn’t want to add yet another worry or feel like I was even more of a ‘burden’ to my family…I know I’m not a burden on my family, and they continually reassure me, but that’s just how I felt at the time.
I became depressed deep down, it just seemed to grow over time and I’d do less and less and get more and more unhappy…and wonder WHY?! …which now I realise to be pretty silly, with what I know now…
For a long time I had wished that this had all clicked earlier for me or that I could get a ‘re-do’ because I like to think that I could or would have made corrections along the way…who knows, maybe even taken the hard path more often which might have led me to find the things I now LOVE doing, earlier in my life.
After all of this, I know that it doesn’t even matter now…
…I’m at the point where I’m mentally & physically feeling better than ever,
I’m far more confident than I’ve ever been…
…and I look good! (as far as I’ve been told lol)
I feel like this world is mine, just as much as it is yours. I managed to tie my shoelaces up for enough hikes and rides to get back into a few of my favourite clothes.
My joints feel a whole lot better,
It’s significantly easier for me to move around now,
I don’t get puffed as easily,
My issues with anxiety are around 90% resolved…you can’t make this stuff up!
I feel much more calm, tranquil and at peace with myself and my surroundings.When I rack my brain about this, it doesn’t take long to realise that EVERYTHING IS BETTER.
With the appropriate equipment and support, even just being out in the bush has a compounding powerful effect that can improve everyone’s lives. There are so many beautiful places to explore and I’m looking forward to conquering as many as I can.
OpenTrax and of course my Exercise Physiologist taught me the basics: How to navigate bush tracks, helpful movement queues like step up, step down, duck and jump. I felt if I could keep getting the appropriate support like I was with my AEP, then I could go to other places, experience more of nature and challenge myself more. I asked OpenTrax and they set up a new bushwalking and hiking plan for me which is AMAZING.
Some of the tracks were hard going…but, that’s what I’d asked for. There were plenty of boulders and logs to jump over, with minimal hesitation I’d go for it, expertly coached through by my AEP. At one point, he helped me jump what felt like a chasm between the rocks. It was very much out of my comfort zone but I loved every second of it. It’s certainly not something I’d attempt myself, but under the professional guidance I felt a great deal of trust and that gave me the confidence to keep going.
Over time, I’ve ended up loving that feeling where I know I am about to get out of my comfort zone. It gives me the rush of what I imagine an extreme sport would give you. Blind Hiking should be officially listed as an extreme sport!
My EP has worked hard to make sure that there have now been many days to remember, surprisingly from what had started as a just a whimsical idea.
My first NDIS plan and funding was pretty limited and I’d already used most of it when I discovered the programs OpenTrax offered. This meant that I had to wait for my next plan so I could continue working with OpenTrax and my EP. Until then, I relied on volunteers and friends to come with me. It meant constant interruption to conversations to describe the steps I need to take, to wait while I try to find secure footing or handholds. It just wasn’t the same…
Hiking with friends, my support workers or volunteers never managed to give me the same enjoyment, calmness, challenge and peace that I was getting out of my sessions with OpenTrax.
This is when I realized how much of a difference there was working with an Exercise Physiologist. I’d never noticed how skilled, patient, encouraging and organised my EP was until he wasn’t there with me. It quickly became glaringly obvious. It was a bit of a shock to be honest.
Only now fully understand how valuable having my own EP was and is still to this day. Without having him out there with me, I wasn’t enjoying it near as much and had a few battles with gravity that I unfortunately lost (no permanent damage). That hadn’t happened when my EP was there – he would always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Amazing really. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to being able to book in with my AEP again.
This whole realisation of how much my EP actually brought to the table is what ended up prompted me to document my experience here. I wanted to thank everyone involved with my program at OpenTrax from the top of my ‘very full’ heart because they have single-handedly made my life SO MUCH BETTER. I seriously cannot thank you all enough.
Anyways, back to where I was…Finally, I had my new plan and funding through NDIS. WOO HOO! It meant I could re-engage OpenTrax and my EP for my hiking. So, it was the first thing I did.
Unfortunately, I had to wait a couple of months before they could fit me in again as my spot was filled by some other lucky NDIS participant. For that, I was not resentful, the opposite in fact. It made me realise that someone else was having those incredible experiences, of getting out of their comfort zone, being challenged, meeting new people, and learning all about what life can be. Only good things!
When I chose to look at it like that, I was happy to wait and my excitement continued building.
Apparently, word of the program had spread fast and they were booked out for ages.
Having to wait for so long, I began working with another EP, they’re all the same, right? WRONG…big mistake. The EP I tried was friendly, nice and all but there was a noticeable gap in their knowledge, skills and experience.
I may have never realised the drastic difference in quality had I not already been working with my EP from OpenTrax.
From my own experience and at least two of my friends’ experiences, all Exercise Physiologists are not created equally! Some are far more passionate, driven, caring and motivated than others. Do your homework when you’re choosing any allied health provider. Some, like mine, are INCREDIBLE. Some, not so great… That’s all I’ll say on the subject 🙂
Nowadays, hiking has become an important and regular part of my life. It lets me engage with life in a way I can’t replicate at home, in the gym or just being in the usual urban environment. It keeps me feeling GREAT.
As my EP said to me after we finished a big hike: “everyone has the right to enjoy the beauty of our incredible Australian bush, I’m just glad I’m able to be here and make sure you get to experience it too. It’s a shame that some people never get the opportunity to come out here and take it all in”.
I lucked out and was given one of the kindest, most thoughtful and caring EP’s in Australia.Chris is worth his weight in gold!
What made all of this possible was the funding, the encouraging, reassuring words from my EP, and the most important thing…
Me getting off my bum and actually applying to that first program that they’d offered.
I don’t care to imagine what life would be like if I hadn’t taken that important step. It was a decision that changed my life.
If I hadn’t bothered filling in that application, I would probably still be sitting on my couch, depressed, overweight, watching other people live their best lives through my netflix. I’d still have that nagging feeling that, I’m alive, but I’m truly not living!”
Life with a disability can go two ways, I see it happen all the time…
You can let it take over, get down about it, feel sorry for yourself and let life wither away……or you realise that this is your life, you only get one go at it, you truly do have the power & that you decide to make your life what YOU want it to be.
I did exactly that and I am far better off for it…
…People have noticed the positive changes in me. I know certainly have!
I live a very fulfilling life now, I’m meeting new people, I’ve made heaps of friends, I’m socialising more than I ever have. I always really look forward to my adventures hiking with OpenTrax.
The program was just the catalyst that started this incredible journey.
My EP and I are actually doing a hike out to the Upper Portals out near Boonah next week and I am so ready! I’ll take lots of photos to share!
If I had to break down this incredible journey into only a couple of dot points for you, the main ones would be:
No one is going to miraculously just appear and make all of these amazing things happen for you. If you know you aren’t truly happy with your current situation in life and want to change it, YOU HAVE TO MAKE IT HAPPEN YOURSELF. It’s a hard fact.
You CAN get out of your comfort zone…it will NOT kill you. You can build your own independence. It is actually very enjoyable and mighty satisfying achievement.
This is YOUR life. You have the power to control how you interact with the world and how you look at it. Glass half-full or glass-half-empty kind of thing. I seriously hope that you choose to make the most of it. It is absolutely WORTH IT. There’s so much more to life when you actively get involved.
Use your funding wisely. I and quite a few other NDIS participants I’ve met, have found that there are plenty of ‘providers’ and ‘businesses’ that are happy to help you to spend your funding with them. Many of them leave a lot to be desired with safety considerations, professionalism, flexibility with their programs and value for money. My NDIS plan and I kissed plenty of toads before I’d found OpenTrax. So, there are good ones out there, they are just hard to find amongst the thousands of poorly executed ones.
I can personally recommend OpenTrax as a service provider. I have had nothing but positive experiences with all of their staff. They regularly go way over and above to accommodate me. I had a few bad experiences with two different physios (both different companies) and one other EP (not in Brisbane) before I found OpenTrax. I am not being paid to say or write this. I’m just very happy with the service I have received and I wanted to show it somehow.
To join one of the programs that OpenTrax offers, you need to get onto pretty quick. You don’t want to have to wait like I did – My EP said that he and the others have been booked flat out for months. Grab a spot, any spot while you can!
You’ll thank me later!Wow, that was far longer than I had planned but there was a lot to say.Who knows…I might just see you out there for one of the group hikes!
Thanks for reading,Zoe B, 31,Bardon, QLD._____________________________
Our program numbers are limited. If you would like to find out more about the programs we have and their current availability you can visit us at:https://OpenTrax.com.au
Is there an activity we don’t have listed, or something else you wished OpenTrax had a program for?Let us know in the comments.