The terms “disabled,” “thrill-seeker,” “outdoor enthusiast,” and “adventurer” are rarely used in the same sentence to describe someone, but when you add the term “wheelchair user,” it’s even less common. Nevertheless, when a medical accident left me with a spinal cord injury (SCI) four years ago, my love of a good adrenaline rush didn’t fade. Once my doctors cleared me to become more active, I began seeking out safe ways to find that feeling that reminds me that I’m alive. This year, the thrill of the hunt for that rush brought me back to a place I’ve known and loved most of my life before my spinal cord injury: Silverwood.
Being the nearest theme park to where I grew up, it’s where my love of exciting rides, especially roller coasters, originated. By about age nine, a day at Silverwood has automatically filled with excitement for their most iconic adrenaline-pumping rides. I couldn’t get enough. That said, I hadn’t had an opportunity to explore Silverwood after my SCI left me needing to utilize a wheelchair. Before my SCI, my theme park days were spent on the run, a never-ending adventure that kept me on my feet all day. However, after my SCI, certain medical problems prevent me from being able to go with more than a couple of hours of action without taking a break. Luckily, during this last visit, I found a way to navigate my recently acquired needs which allowed me to have moments of non-stop action and just as enjoyable rest breaks.
As an avid outdoors enthusiast, I opted to stay at Silverwood RV, camping in a tent with my family, which we do regularly. As Mother Nature tried to literally “rain on our parade” with a huge downpour, we pressed on, knowing that the setup would be well worth it to have a home away from home directly next to the theme park. By the time that morning came, we were a bit disappointed by the light drizzle of rain and a gloomy forecast, but even that has its perks at Silverwood: short lines and clear pathways. With a little rain gear, I finally got the adrenaline rush that the inner “adrenaline junkie” in me craves. Although being addicted to adrenaline isn’t listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, if it were, it would have my picture by it—and, as always, the general public would be shocked by my use of wheels.
As a wheelchair user, I continually get astonished reactions to the fact that I love extreme sports and daring adventures not typically associated with the fact that I sit in a wheelchair most of the day. Recently, rock climbing and kayaking have been the available risk-taking adventures for me, but I’m always up for a new activity. Instantly, I knew the thrill ride that I wanted to attempt for the first time: Stunt Pilot, which had been a new addition since my last visit, and the heart-pumping thrill didn’t disappoint! As a wheelchair user, the more independent and free I feel, the greater the euphoria, so the fact that Stunt Pilot has only a single seat per row was perfect for someone who constantly is inundated with feeling less independent.
Timber Terror, the first large coaster I ever rode at Silverwood, quickly followed, much to my adrenaline needs happiness. However, eventually came the time that anyone with a physical ailment understands, my body needed a rest, even though my brain was still craving to be entertained. Of course, luckily for me, there is also one of my guilty pleasures at Silverwood: Dippin’ Dots, which I happily ate and attempted to justify being my entire lunch for the day. However, I ended up succumbing to some of the other tempting food later in the day and thus justified that with all of the exercise I was getting by pushing myself around instead. (Did I also mention I’m an excuse professional?) I got a few more rides in the books and had another highly entertaining break at Phantasm, the magic show, which I highly recommend even if you don’t need a break.
Prior to coming, we had originally assumed I would need to possibly go back to the campsite more often to take a break as the weather was unseasonably too chilly to hang out at Boulder Beach; however, conveniently, there were plenty of things inside of the park to do that were readily available with ample resting opportunities. With that, I happily rounded off my sensation-seeking weekend with Tremors, which never lets me down and gave me one more epinephrine punch to end the day with. As a wheelchair user, many people judge me off on the mobility equipment I use. They assume my life is fairly mundane, limited, medically-intense, or dull, as television has historically portrayed. But the next time you happen to see a wheelchair user out in public, don’t be so quick to judge a book by its cover. Although film and TV have classically only portrayed a limited amount of characters with a disability, who tend to have very little variation in traits, careers, hobbies, life stories, and habits, in reality, people with disabilities make up about 20% of the U.S. population. We are as diverse as you who are reading this, and the stories of our lives usually don’t follow the very few scripts that actually make it to the big screen
Meet The Conductor
My name is Danielle Rice, and I am Ms. Wheelchair USA 2020-2021 (Ms. America for wheelchair users). I grew up in central Washington, and just like everyone else from central Washington, summer trips to Silverwood quickly became an iconic staple of my childhood. I am now 34 years old, a caregiver of 15 years, on the executive board of my union for caregivers, am happily married to my husband, Sam, and have a handsome six-year-old son, August. We currently live in the mountains above Asotin, WA, and I hold a Bachelor’s degree from Central Washington University. The topics I cover are diverse, but include: self care, disability lifestyle, mental health, representation of people with disabilities in the media, being a wheelchair mom and wife, accessible travel, outdoor adventuring and thrill-seeking. Long before my SCI, my life was all about the outdoors, thrill seeking, adventuring, extreme sports and camping, and I know more than most that we’ve only got one life to live, so, for me, it is meant to be lived loud!