Loads of fun at the high-ropes course for wheelchairs

LIFE in a wheelchair is generally spent on level ground.

For Elias Anderson, the past 11 years living with cerebral palsy has meant life revolved around his chair. 

It is a constant fight for survival, with tubes feeding oxygen into his lungs. 

But on Monday the Glenroy Specialist School pupil achieved something he probably never imagined he would. 

Strapped into his wheelchair with a harness, he manoeuvred his way around a new world-class high ropes course at the Blackwood Special Schools Outdoor Education Centre.

A multi-level, wheelchair-accessible course with two flying foxes, the open air course is the only one of its kind in Australia. 

For children like Elias, it means everything. 

While the pupil has trouble communicating, everyone at the opening of the course on Monday could see what it meant to the youngster.

Outdoor adventure: Nick Caligiuri, 14, conquers the open air course.
PICTURES: JUSTIN WHITELOCK

Outdoor adventure: Nick Caligiuri, 14, conquers the open air course. PICTURES: JUSTIN WHITELOCK

Watching on in awe, his mother Margie said it was facilities like these which made life worth living for children including Elias. 

“Elias is a daredevil, he will try anything. But most of the time we have to say no to him because it simply isn’t possible,” Ms Anderson said.

“But that’s not the case here. Here is one of the few places where we can say yes.”

She said the look on her son’s face when he woke up at the camp on Monday morning was something she would never forget. 

“If you could have seen the smile, from ear to ear, because he woke up in a tent,” she said. 

“The activities he can be involved in here are those which shape him, which make him happy. 

“It really is such a blessing for him to be able to come here.”

The Blackwood camp celebrates its 45th birthday this year. 

Before the high ropes course, the camp was known for its overnight bush expeditions, mountain biking and wheelchair archery. 

Fellow Glenroy Specialist School student Nick Caligiuri, 14, said the camp was a highlight of his school year. 

“It’s just good fun,” he said. 

“I love it here.”

Camp manager Tony Bellette, who has been helping children reach their potential through the facility for the past 14 years, said it was stories like these which made it such a great place to be. 

“We see huge changes in these kids, purely from what they learn when they come and stay,” he said. 

“A lot of these kids don’t have the confidence to try new things,

but when they do they soon realise that they can do it and they can do it well.”

Mr Bellette recalled the story of one girl whose life changed dramatically after she left the camp. 

“She was basically never interested in much, never wanted to participate in any sports or anything like that,” he said. 

“Then she came here and she just loved the wheelchair archery ... that’s all she wanted to do all day long.”

Mr Bellette said he later heard the girl had enrolled in a local archery group in Melbourne. 

“And those stories are very common,” he said. 

Initially coming up with the idea of an all-ability high ropes course in 2011, Mr Bellete travelled throughout North America last year to visit camps with similar set-ups. 

“I visited about 16 different camps and our course is a mix of about five of those,” he said. 

“We’ve taken all the best bits and I can honestly say it’s one of the best around.”

The Blackwood Special Schools Outdoor Education Centre pro-

vides outdoor programs exclusively for children from Victorian Govern-

ment Special Schools. 

The new high ropes course was made possible by support from a charity golf day, member schools that use the site, the Ballan Lioness Club, the Rotary Club of Frankston Sunrise, Geoff and Jeanette Morris and the Firefighters Charity Fund. 

patrick.byrne@fairfaxmedia.com.au