Couple works to open town to those with disabilities
January 3, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Craig Kennedy said it almost as a dare, but moments later acknowledged that even he sometimes is surprised.
"Name any sport," he said. "Try to think of any sport."
Here's the game: think of any sport, and Kennedy and his wife of four years, Andrea, will explain how it's a sport perfectly open to people with disabilities, one that can be and frequently is adapted for anyone to participate in.
Still, after 14 years in a wheelchair, most of which were years spent exploring and opening the eyes of Steamboat residents to what was possible — and after five years of running Access Anything, the Kennedys' Steamboat Springs-based company that puts on camps for eager adaptive athletes from across the world — even Craig Kennedy is surprised sometimes.
"You'd be really hard-pressed to find something that's not adapted in some way," Craig Kennedy said.
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"Outrigger canoeing — just did that in Miami," Andrea Kennedy cut in. "That was a weird one. We'd never even thought of it."
Growing into the job
Craig and Andrea Kennedy will welcome an adult all-mountain ski camp to Steamboat Springs next week for the fifth consecutive year. The camp will offer adaptive skiers the chance to ride anywhere they want, including one day in the Buffalo Pass backcountry with the Steamboat Powdercats. The camp is so popular that participants often are ready to sign up for years in advance on their way out the door of their first season.
Craig Kennedy said the response from the community has been amazing and that donations and contributions have flowed in to help Access Anything support the campers, many of whom are soldiers who were injured in combat.
Just how the couple became one of the most well-known voices in the mountain region's adaptive community, well, neither really is sure.
Craig Kennedy, injured in a skiing accident at Steamboat Ski Area in 1996, got his start as an advocate for adaptive access while working as a concierge for Sheraton Steamboat Resort about 10 years ago.
"A lot of the activity providers back then said, 'We want to get you out here. We want to try this,'" he said. "They encouraged me to get out and try some things. Previously, I had only done skiing, so I got to try dog sledding and snowmobiling and all this other stuff. They helped me get out and play and encouraged me to think outside the box."
Andrea Kennedy joined his efforts as soon as the couple met, at a long-gone downtown Steamboat bar.
At first, the effort was about frustration, Craig Kennedy said.
He was frustrated that the town he'd already fallen in love with was so difficult to access in a wheelchair. He spoke with business owners — often longtime friends and associates — who were almost afraid of his quest to improve Steamboat Springs.
"It was learn as you go. When I started, I was telling people, 'It's the law, and it's the right thing to do,'" Craig Kennedy said. "People looked at me and said, 'You want me to spend money and not make money? I'm not going to do it.' There was some resentment, some resistance.
"For us, it's now more about educating and letting them know good access is good business. At first, it was almost personal to me. I was looking at it from a selfish standpoint. I had to change the way I looked at it in order for other people to understand."
As the Kennedys warmed up to the task of transforming Steamboat Springs, so did everyone they encountered.
Nothing helped more than finding a financial reason to spur the improvement.
Once they started talking tourist dollars, things started to get done.
"We got a bunch of statistics about travelers with disabilities, and the big stat we share with everyone is that there are 55 million Americans with disabilities, and they spend $13.6 billion dollars on travel," Andrea Kennedy said. "Once Steamboat realized that and started marketing to that, they increased."
Five years ago, the couple, both freelance writers, decided to capitalize on their efforts with a pair of books. That was the start of the Access Anything enterprise. One was an adaptive tour guide to the state, and the other detailed how athletes with disabilities could enjoy all the same sports they loved before their accidents and even many they hadn't.
They were soon partnering with other adaptive organizations, including Adaptive Adventures, to run camps in Steamboat.
Andrea Kennedy still tries for freelance writing and photography gigs, and Craig Kennedy offers consulting services to local and national companies, helping them learn the right way to cater to disabled customers.
Their camps have become popular, however, and now occupy much of their time.
"I feel like we've been paving this road," Andrea Kennedy said. "We are laying hot asphalt. Get out of the way. There isn't a model for this. Other towns will model themselves after Steamboat eventually."
They still celebrate each small victory.
An early one came in Gondola Square when a ramp was built to the door of the small information stand, replacing a window that skiers in wheelchairs used to have to lean up to and shout into in order to use the building's services.
Another came when the ski area added a wheelchair-accessible gondola car, and yet another came recently when signs were added to the base of the ski area to help skiers with disabilities avoid the split-level area's many staircases and when the city bought a wheelchair-friendly golf cart for Haymaker Golf Course.
"We realized golf was something that was missing all over the state," Andrea said. "As far as I know, we're the only resort town you can golf in."
If all goes well, the Kennedys plan for 2010 to be a year of expansion for their small company.
They have giant plans. They will host two winter ski camps in the new year, next week's adult camp and a children's camp set for the spring. They'll again invite people with disabilities from near and far for a summer water-ski camp at Bald Eagle Lake. Their most ambitious effort is a downhill mountain biking camp.
Then, next winter, they hope to continue a Legends of Deep Powder backcountry skiing event they debuted last season on Buffalo Pass with the help of Steamboat Powdercats.
That event was featured with a photo and a story in the most recent issue of Skiing magazine and as much as anything else showed the couple what they've managed to do in Steamboat.
"For us to break down that barrier and get an adaptive article in a skiing magazine — that does it for me right there," Craig Kennedy said. "It started out as we're going to write some books, and now I think we are doing some pretty amazing stuff. Personally, I feel great about what I do. I wouldn't trade it for anything."