Starting with ‘Rosie,' local pastor building group to help people with disabilities explore outdoors

Debi Rosen enjoys the sights and sounds of Caesar Creek State Park on a Joelette All-Terrain Chair. CONTRIBUTED
Caption
Debi Rosen enjoys the sights and sounds of Caesar Creek State Park on a Joelette All-Terrain Chair. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Pastor at Mason church came up with the idea after being haunted by a conversation he never had

The car accident was traumatic, but the lifelong limitations, as a result of a spinal cord injury, were devastating for Debi Rosen.

But Rosen, who has spent the past 18 years in a wheelchair, recently became the inspiration for an organization that removes limitations for people with disabilities. It all began with a conversation that never happened.

“I had recently done a really cool hike and I couldn’t wait to tell people about it,” said Kevin Schwieger, pastor at Grace Chapel in Mason. “The first person I saw was Debi and the words caught in my mouth. She would never be able to experience what I had and I didn’t know if I should say anything. In the end, I didn’t tell her about it and that non-conversation haunted me.”

It was then that Schwieger set out on a mission to help people with disabilities experience the great outdoors. But he soon discovered that adaptive equipment is not easy to come by. After much searching, he found a company in France that manufactures a chair-cycle that would enable people with a wide variety of disabilities to go on a hike with the help of volunteers. He shared a video of the Joelette All-Terrain Chair with Rosen, whose excitement was difficult to contain.

Schwieger dubbed the chair “Rosie,” in honor of Rosen.

Next were phone calls and fundraising to do and a “Rosie” was soon on its way to Ohio. Rosen would, of course, be the first to go on a hike. Months later, the experience is still fresh in 71-year-old’s mind.

“The sounds of the birds, the smell of the earth, the view of the waterfall, it was all fantastic,” she said. “It was the first time in 18 years I was able to be out in nature that way.”

Luke5Adventures — a name that comes from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 5 passage about a group of friends who took their paralyzed friend to meet Jesus — was born.

Making a difference

Whitney Blackston’s daughter Emerson is completely blind, hearing impaired and nonverbal, but there is no doubt that she enjoys every hike she has been on with Luke5Adventures.

“She laughs and claps her hands when she bounces over the roots and she smiles when she puts her feet in the water,” Blackston said. “We’re giving her new experiences and it’s a huge blessing for us because we don’t need to leave her behind to do these things.”

The 7-year-old went on her first hike in June and has enjoyed six or seven more since then.

“Now, the whole family can experience the outdoors together,” Blackston said.

While the hikers and their families enjoy the experience, they aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits of the organization.

“The activity is as impactful for the volunteers as it is for the hikers,” Schwieger said.

And their time and energy is greatly appreciated.

“The kind people that they are, helping you take the ride, it’s just incredible,” Rosen said.

Caption
Chloe Whitacre enjoys a hike at Rentschler Forest near Hamilton with the help of Luke5Adventures. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Chloe Whitacre enjoys a hike at Rentschler Forest near Hamilton with the help of Luke5Adventures. CONTRIBUTED
Caption
Chloe Whitacre enjoys a hike at Rentschler Forest near Hamilton with the help of Luke5Adventures. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Moving forward

The organization — which currently offers free one- to two-hour hikes in parks throughout Southwest Ohio — now has three “Rosies” and is planning to purchase a fourth one. There are 130 volunteers and there is already talk about chapters starting in other areas.

“My brain goes from 0 to 100 almost instantly and this has met or exceeded my expectations,” Schwieger said.

While the standard adventures are done at no cost, Schwieger and the volunteers are also available for custom adventures, priced on a case-by-case basis.

As for Rosen, she can’t wait to get back on the trail in her namesake “Rosie.”

“To me, it’s an honor to be associated with an organization that does such positive things for people with disabilities.”

For information on Luke5Adventures, Schwieger can be reached at 513-668-3995 or info@luke5adventures.com.

About the Author