Adventure Healing: Can an Apostle Islands adventure be a part of recovery?

Distant kayaker framed by sea cave silhouette - Jeff Rennicke photo

February 27, 2023

Clinical psychologist and Access for All Advisory Board member Dr. Daniel Skenderian thinks so.

As a psychologist working in a physical rehabilitation hospital in Southern California for the past few decades, I’ve seen the dramatic effects physical injuries and catastrophic illnesses can have on one’s sense of self, family, and activities of daily living. Traumatic brain and spinal cord injury, stroke, cancer, multiple sclerosis, orthopedic injuries, amputations, along with their emotional impact on lives makes coping with these disabilities extremely difficult. Sometimes removing the stricken individual from mainstream life; some destined to social isolation, functional dependency, and a lifestyle that circles around all limitations rather than opportunities. 

Daniel Skenderian

Daniel Skenderian, Ph.D.

Typically, an individual is admitted into our facility for rehabilitation which involves physical, occupational, and speech therapy, nursing, daily physician visits, and psychological counseling to assist with developing needed coping skills. Many of these injuries and illnesses bring along with them psychological trauma and adjustment difficulties, as well requiring intensive education, support, and care. At the end of inpatient treatment, ongoing care extends into the outpatient phase where a patient can remain for several months or longer.

That is where the power of nature can play a role. As part of the outpatient process, we have an Outdoor Adventures program where patients, depending upon their physical readiness, can learn to kayak, ski, canoe, and take on other outdoor adventures. The program empowers people by creating opportunities through challenging and exciting outdoor activities. By emphasizing ability over disability, each person reaches to confront their fears and self-doubts gaining confidence and a greater sense of self-efficacy. To be able to enjoy those activities common to abled body people creates a sense of belonging and community and a greater involvement in life, in general.

The Access for All initiative of Friends of the Apostle Islands aims to help people undertake these sorts of challenges, adventure, and growth. People like Annie Hickman who says, “trips like this kept me from giving up when I learned of my progressive neurological disorder. Paddling the Apostle Islands has been life changing. It shows that I can still do some of the things I love. It is completely restorative even though I am a puddle when I am done.”

And Janet Badura, a Friends advocate, who writes of her Apostle Islands adventure “As a wheelchair user, I believe I am a more proud, knowledgeable, happier, and a braver person through this integration of living and learning through our national parks. Access to the Apostle Islands is an experience all should be able to see, breathe in, and feel.”

Annie Hickman in a kayak

Annie Hickman

People like Annie and Janet are taking this same approach to be a part of something bigger than themselves in the beautiful world of the Apostle Islands.

Distant kayakers explore the sea caves, as seen through a giant stone arch in the foreground

Distant kayakers explore the sea caves, as seen through a giant sandstone arch – Jeff Rennicke photo

Exploring the Sand Island boardwalk – Jeff Rennicke photo

Having the capability and curiosity to be with nature creates opportunities for people with disabilities and progressive illnesses to explore as far as their imaginations will take them. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore also provides opportunities for individuals to face their fears and apprehensions of the unknown in a relatively safe and beautiful environment.

Whether it’s kayaking the sea caves or traversing Sand Island on the wooden walkway in a wheelchair, an experience truly comes alive within the soul that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise had access not been provided by the joint efforts of Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and the National Park Service.


Visiting the Apostle Islands with their growing accessibility to all is a dream come true for many who never thought it was even possible. What a great way to build confidence, personal growth, brighten self-esteem, restore oneself to a greater sense of self in a community of people who share similar goals and life philosophies. In his book Walden, Henry David Thoreau said, “I went to the woods to live life deliberately”. With Access For All, everyone can enjoy the pearls of Gichigami, the Apostles, and the “food” it creates for the soul. It’s this soul that collectively joins us in appreciating the Apostles; the body just gets us there, with some more challenging than others. The Access for All initiative of Friends of the Apostle Islands is striving to provide access for all who wish to partake in its treasures.

Daniel Skenderian, Ph.D.
Clinical and Rehabilitation Psychologist

 Lic # PSY8083
Casa Colina Hospital and Centers for Healthcare, Pomona, CA

To learn how you can become a part of making a difference through our Access for All initiative, click the logo below.

Infinity symbol in green and orange Access for All

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