Event opens door to outdoors for handicapped

Family Fest 2009 - the second annual outdoor event for the disabled and their families was a little soggy at times but the rain didn't dampen the determination of those trying to pull the ‘big one' from the pond.

As the rain fell during the morning, wheelchairs still sat on the banks, poles still in the water, waiting for the next bite.

For some, the disabilities were apparent with wheelchairs, walkers and canes visible. For others the disabilities were not so apparent.

Some sat quietly and fished while some walked or were driven around to the various exhibits in golf carts.

Volunteers drove the golf carts, stopping here and there to either drop off or pick up passengers.

There seemed to be something for everyone from the snow cone machine to the petting zoo to learning archery and of course - fishing.

The event even had buggy rides.

The main event of the day was almost completely rained out.

Just after lunch, visitors lined up to see a parachutist jump onto the banks of the pond. However, the sky opened up with, this time, heavy rains.

The rain, like many other obstacles in his life, did not deter - Dana Bowman, the parachutist.

Below Bowman, a very large American flag unfolded.

Bowman guided himself for a landing with the flag in tow into a grassy area.

Bowman, a paraplegic, is a former member of the Golden Knights, the elite Army parachuting team.

Bowman and his parachuting partner, Sgt. Jose Aguillon collided during a training exercise in 1994. The accident killed Aguillon and caused Bowman to lose both legs. Bowman lost one below the knee and one above the knee. Bowman is active as ever using a variety of prosthetics legs, depending upon the type of activity he is doing.

Bowman now uses his "disability" to show others how "able" they are by doing motivational speeches and events like Family Fest.

After landing, Bowman spoke to the crowd of onlookers about how not to let adversity stand in the way of success.

Holly Rimes, organizer of the event, said she hoped that everyone could enjoy the outdoors, at least for one day because becoming homebound is easy when someone is disabled.

"You can become homebound without even knowing it," she said. With the Internet, phones and cable featuring 300-plus channels, one can communicate with the world without ever leaving home, she said.

Rimes hoped this day outdoors would "change their way of thinking about the outdoors."

Even if they can only get outside occasionally, she said.

"By opening doors, we hope to help those with disabilities realize that there are many things they can do to enjoy the outdoors," she said.

More than 600 people enjoyed the day including Rep. Lonnie Hosey and Rep. Jeff Duncan, Rimes said.