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Outdoors At Last

An Interview With Penni Duzy, National Ability Center’s “Miracle Kid”

Backcountry partners with the National Ability Center (NAC) around our shared mission of breaking down barriers to the outdoors. Based in Park City, Utah, the NAC empowers individuals of all abilities from across the globe through outdoor recreation. To support their work, we feature stories about adaptive athletes and serve as an outfitter of NAC athletes and guides. 

Sixteen-year-old Penni Duzy is an NAC athlete who has been active in a number of adaptive programs and camps since 2013. Born with congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), a hole in her diaphragm, Penni spent the first weeks of her life on life support—her parents called her a “miracle kid”. Eight years ago, Penni was able to begin venturing into the world and she found confidence, support, and joy in the NAC’s adaptive programming.

Her dreams of working with horses and skiing like her big sisters were out-of-reach before getting involved with the NAC. Defying the odds, Penni now regularly participates in the NAC’s equestrian program, youth camps, and Team Flyers, which is NAC’s competition team for athletes with developmental and intellectual disabilities. 

Penni’s most recent mission was to complete the 16-mile Summit Challenge, a biking event and fundraiser for the NAC. With the help of her parents Karen and Dave, Penni shared what it’s like to be a part of Team Flyers.

How did you find out about the NAC and Team Flyers? Did someone in your life inspire you to join?

The programs and camps at the NAC are fantastic and propel me to develop confidence and persistence while also making me feel happy. Before being a part of Team Flyers, my dad tried to teach me to ride [bikes], and we couldn’t manage it. Once I joined, the Team Flyers coaches challenged and encouraged me, and I’m now riding successfully. The NAC instructors and coaches persuade me to excel in the programs without pushing too hard.

How did you train for the 16-mile Summit Challenge and what did you look forward to most? Is there anything you were nervous about?

I mostly trained with Team Flyers, but my dad worked with me at home, too. I always look forward to crossing the finish line and celebrating. Even after training for the Summit Challenge for months, you still question your endurance to make it 16 miles. I was nervous about riding that distance, but because of the support of the Team Flyers training team and my family, I was able to accomplish my goal. 

“I always look forward to crossing the finish line and celebrating.”

What does cycling and being a part of Team Flyers mean to you?

Cycling and being a Team Flyers member means that I am not held back because of my different abilities. I am able to push myself as hard as I can in order to participate in competitive sports that have previously been exclusive to “able-bodied” participants. Overall, it just brings me joy and makes me more confident as an athlete. There is no pressure to be more than what I’m capable of, which is fun. 

What’s your favorite thing about competing with the NAC?

Competing with the NAC is challenging, but always fun. Being able to learn different sports and activities at my own pace while still being gently guided by the instructors and volunteers is encouraging.

Are you on any other teams with the NAC?

Other than participating in cycling with Team Flyers, I alpine ski, participate in the equestrian program in horseback riding, and also love heading to the archery pavilion after a lesson. 

“I am able to push myself as hard as I can in order to participate in competitive sports that have previously been exclusive to ‘able-bodied’ participants.”

How else do you like to stay active or get outside?

Because of so many years spent being limited from physical activity, I love to get outside and immersed in nature. One of my favorite activities is fishing. I’ve become quite an expert at it as well, and one time I caught 12 fish with my princess pole! Other than fishing, I enjoy camping, either with my family or with some of the NAC’s camp programs like Crusaders Camp.

What are some of your immediate or long-term goals as an athlete?

I’m primarily focused on building my endurance and being able to ride further. I’d like to be able to ride the 25-mile Summit Challenge course at some point.  

Which three items in your gear closet are your favorites and why?

First, I have to say my bike, because I love riding. But, I also love camping, so my sun shirt is a go-to. My third favorite is probably my running shoes. I love being outdoors, so whenever we can, my family goes on hikes on the many trails throughout Park City. 

 “Because of so many years spent being limited from physical activity,
I love to get outside and immersed in nature.”

Anything else you’d like us to know about you or about Team Flyers?

My experience with Team Flyers, the coaches, and volunteers, has allowed me to grow and become more comfortable with outdoor recreation. The opportunity to exercise at my level of comfort and doing so many different activities makes the NAC a special place.