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Sharing Adaptation

An NAC Instructor’s Story Of Injury, Learning & Teaching

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.

Maggie Gettys: Raft Guide, Adaptive Athlete, Adventure Instructor, and soon, Recreational Therapist. Maggie’s held many titles in her life. The unexpected spark for her career change? A fall from a loft.

In 2016, Maggie was guiding rafting trips on the Nantahala River when she fell from a loft in her staff lodging, sustaining a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI). “At the time, I didn’t know what an SCI was and I didn’t realize the severity of what was going on,” she explains. Hell-bent on maintaining her lifestyle, Maggie resisted adaptive sports at first. She says it wasn’t until she realized the permanence of her paralysis that she started to become “more open-minded to the different ways [she] could be active again.”

“I really fell in love with off-road hand cycling once I realized the access to the outdoors it gave me.”

Once she applied her adventurous nature to the world of adaptive recreation, Maggie discovered familiar and new ways to get out there. While working in North Carolina as an adaptive rec teaching assistant, she got her first taste of hand cycling—and the rest, as they say, was history. One lap around the parking lot, and she was determined to get off-road on wheels.

When Maggie moved to Utah, the first thing she did was book a lesson with the National Ability Center (NAC). Soon after, she started volunteering with their rock climbing program, and eventually became an instructor for a variety of adventures.

While Maggie didn’t mountain bike much before her injury, this year she raced regularly and even took second at the Adaptive Mountain Biking World Championship. Even taking the top slot at a Mid-Week MTB race couldn’t hold a candle to her favorite race: “the trail called Undertow [at Deer Valley] was such a scary trail that I had to overcome my nerves and just go for it.” She credits Coach Steph Meyer at the NAC for pushing her out of her comfort zone and boosting her confidence—and her dog, Scooter, for keeping her company on the trails.

“The more I travel with my bike, the more trails I find that I love!“

As an NAC instructor, Maggie finds great joy in sharing adaptive recreation with others, but the job is not without its challenges. She often has to fend off self-doubt before each lesson. “It’s all about finding my confidence,” she says, “I’ve learned so much over the past few years.”

Maggie’s paralysis means her teammates help out with some tasks, like carrying boats or unloading bikes. “I know the other instructors don’t mind picking up that slack, but it still makes me feel bad,” she admits.

She also has considerations when it comes to outdoor gear and apparel that others don’t have to think about: “Having an SCI means that I don’t have normal sensation below my level of injury,” she explains, “so protecting my skin is super important.” To that effect, her favorite piece of gear is her sleeping pad because she trusts it to keep her skin safe when sleeping outside.

Singletrack, crag, campsite, and now ski lift—Maggie is returning to the snow after a long sabbatical by learning to use a sit-ski called a monoski. And outdoor adventures aren’t the only thing on her radar. She’s currently working toward her Master’s Degree in Recreational Therapy, which will enable her to take her work with adaptive athletes to the next level. Her drive for this work comes from her “belief in the power of these activities to help people reach their therapeutic goals,” and we can’t wait to see her continue helping people.