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North Shore InterFit program pushes boundaries

A strong group of volunteers strives to get everyone into the North Shore Mountains.

A strong group of volunteers strives to get everyone into the North Shore Mountains.

Since 2000, InterFit, a volunteer-run charity has improved the quality of life for people living with disabilities by providing and assisting with integrated fitness and recreational opportunities – mainly on the North Shore.

After raising funds to purchase adapted weight room equipment and helping to make local rec centres more accessible for those with disabilities, InterFit shifted its focus to the outdoors.

North Shore Adapted Hiking aims to change people’s perception of what ‘wheelchair accessible’ means.

With the help of energetic volunteers, NSAH uses trailriders and off-road chairs to help people get into nature and access the inaccessible and gives them the confidence to push their boundaries just a little farther.

More than 80 InterFit riders annually explore trails all over the North Shore and Vancouver. Like everyone else, some riders want more challenging trails and others prefer more scenic and easy terrain.

InterFit’s board is supported by volunteers, who work together to raise funds for the purchase of adapted equipment and operational costs such as insurance, fuel and maintenance for the equipment.

Board president Lucy Goncalves says because she loves the outdoors and enjoys being active in a communal environment, InterFit seemed like, well, a perfect fit.

“As a person with a disability, there are very limited options in terms of accessing outdoor recreation, especially in the area of hiking and camping,” says Goncalves. “After my first camping trip eight years ago with Brian Bell, who started InterFit, I joined the board.”  

Goncalves says she gives back because she’s passionate about advocating for other people with disabilities to have equal access and opportunity to enjoy nature to the fullest extent.

“InterFit is unique in its approach, as we are very inclusive and have a team spirit," explains Goncalves. It doesn’t matter what type of disability you have – physical, mental, intellectual etc. You can participate in any capacity as a rider or as a volunteer.”

As president of the group, Goncalves says she is always on-call responding to inquiries, networking, recruiting volunteers, along with performing other administrative duties.

InterFit is always recruiting and training new volunteers, such as Sandy Parkinson.

“What I find unique about InterFit versus other groups that accommodate people with disabilities is that it feels very inclusive,” says Parkinson. “There is not a feeling of ‘them and us.’” 

Parkinson explains how the volunteers and riders share a sense of camaraderie, regardless of their physical or mental challenges. 

“We all take on the trail as a team. Everyone comes together to share what they have to offer and to enjoy each other’s company,” she says.

Volunteers who come looking for exercise and a social connection could be riders, Sherpas or even a social facilitator, like Parkinson.

“A few years ago, I brought along a friend who was suffering from early Alzheimer’s and he was the most unstoppable and compassionate Sherpa I have ever seen,” says Parkinson. 

“Strong and steady Special Olympics athletes have also come along and enjoyed volunteering and meeting new friends. It’s all about getting outside and helping one another.”

More information about InterFit is available on their website,