Watch videos: Learn how Swedish's MS Center Adventure Program fosters joy and community
[4 min read]
In this article:
- Swedish's MS Adventure Program celebrates its tenth anniversary this year.
- The program is a groundbreaking initiative developed by Swedish's MS Center.
- The MS Adventure Program offers patients with Multiple Sclerosis the opportunity to go skydiving, skiing, kayaking and much more.
- The program is supported by the Swedish Foundation's generous donors.
Occupational Therapist Simon Gale wasn't in his role as the Swedish Multiple Sclerosis Center's Adventure and Recreation Program guide long before he realized something. While he'd initially suggested a clinical approach, finding out people's short and long-term goals, what they used to do and what they'd like to do, he quickly got redirected by the center's leader, James Bowen, M.D.
"He was polite but made me understand that I was overthinking it," says Gale. "He told me, 'We want our people having fun.' That took a lot of the pressure off." It's part of the center's vision to support health and well-being. That vision includes people not feeling defined by their diagnosis.
Now celebrating its tenth year, the Swedish MS Center has created a model that combines the best that healthcare and humanity can offer. A world leader in treatment and research, the center also provides vocational support, social services, neurocognitive support, wellness programs and an adventure program like none other.
Experiences as medicine
As the Swedish MS Center continues to grow and evolve, so does its Adventure and Recreation Program. In the winter, participants enjoy snowshoeing, Nordic and downhill skiing. Summer brings climbing, kayaking, cycling, and skydiving. Spring and fall offer art classes, metal forging, and photography, to name a few. No matter what people's abilities may be, the program accommodates them. Partners like Outdoors for All bring additional support with trained instructors and adaptive equipment.
By offering many options, the program meets people where they are. "We have people who run marathons and climb Yosemite, and then we have people who use power wheelchairs," says Gale. "So, we have a broad spectrum of events to cater to everybody."
Gale notes that recreational therapy experts exist, but he’s not one. His background is in neurology and occupational therapy in an outpatient clinical setting. Having Gale serve as the Adventure Program's lead, who also sees patients in the clinic, is intentional. This way, Gale and many of his patients know one another more holistically as people experiencing joy and community together rather than simply knowing one another in a medical office.
"How rewarding to see a person in the clinic with a rotator cuff injury, giving them basic exercises and then coming to an adventure and experiencing people in the fullness of their interests and passions," says Gale.
On the slopes! A Swedish MS Adventure Program ski trip. At top: Adventure Program participants take to the air at iFly Seattle.
The sweet spot
It's been said that adventures can be classified into three types of fun. The first type has perfect weather, and everything goes according to plan, seamless and maybe too easy. In the third type of fun things get dangerous and memorable for all the wrong reasons. In the middle of those two is the second type of fun, the sweet spot of just enough challenge and reward, and that's what the adventure program strives for.
"Every time we've gone skydiving, people are terrified," says Gale. "They're barely able to get on the plane. Then, nothing beats that blissed-out look after they've safely landed."
The events offer different people different things. Some want to continue to experience something they experienced in the past, and others want to find new activities. Some want to have an experience in a group setting, and others use the opportunity to learn how to do the activity independently.
From year to year, Gale builds in continuity. "I repeat what we did in previous years so people know what to expect, but I also try to add a few new things," he says.
In the area of new ideas, he began exploring virtual reality during the pandemic and hopes to continue to move that forward. He also has ideas for multi-day trips, like camping, a trip to Whistler or sailing to Blake Island. There are also always great ideas from patients, like the recent addition of pickleball. When it comes to new ideas, Dr. Bowen is generally an enthusiast. "He's never said no yet," Gale says.
It's expensive to supply transportation and food or to collaborate with service providers, and philanthropy helps to make these experiences as fun and satisfying as possible.
"It was magic watching them slip into the lake," Gale says of one of the kayaking events. "There were as many people in the water as on shore, in the tent, on folding chairs, eating sandwiches and talking about MS — or not talking about MS."
Find a doctor
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.