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People First Adventure Traveler

Three people, each in a wheelchair, look out onto a lake.

Shannan Williams is a 29-year-old woman, college graduate, and world traveler. Skiing down a mountain blanketed with fresh snow under an impossibly blue Colorado sky, slicing her kayak paddle through the pristine waters of the San Juan Islands in Washington State, or rolling her wheelchair over the cobblestoned streets of Europe, Shannan Williams has a message for people living with a disability that may need a little encouragement towards reaching a goal or dream that involves adventure seeking:

“If you plan for it, you can do it.”

When talking about travel, as with all subjects, she prefers speaking in “people first” language, using the words, “I am a traveler with a disability,” rather than, “I am a disabled traveler.” She believes that travel and all kinds of outdoor experiences are firmly within reach for people living with a wide range of disabilities, and one look at her passport backs that up. Shannan knows that traveling with a disability requires extra planning to ensure the success of her adventures, just one of the many skills she has mastered. She has many notable achievements under her belt, but she recalls the joyful day she received her BA in Sociology from The University of Colorado after five challenging years of study as one of her most important accomplishments. Shannan is a part-time employee in the Human Resources department at an oil and gas firm and she makes her home in Parker, Colorado. This is the story of Shannan’s ongoing mission to continually broaden her horizons and her outright refusal to live within any predetermined limits.

A young woman, Shannan Williams, smiles at the camera from her hostel room with bunk beds.

Shannan’s Debut - Diplegic Cerebral Palsy

Shannan was born prematurely at 32 weeks gestation with diplegic cerebral palsy (CP), a neurological condition which can occur in utero, but most often appears in infancy or early childhood and affects muscle control and coordination on both sides of her body. CP affects all of her muscles, both seen and unseen. On the day she was born, her parents were told that they must officially decide on their baby girl’s legal name as soon as possible; in order to prepare for the legal filing of both her birth and possible death certificates, there were grave questions hanging in the balance as to whether or not she would survive the first night of her life.

CP in Infancy and Early Childhood

Most fortunately, Shannan survived, a powerful portent of the perseverance and the unyielding path forward that would be jointly crafted by both Shannan and her parents in the coming years. Her parents began to nurture their hopes and dreams for their little girl, her bright future defined only by possibility. The early years were challenging for the Allen-Williams, but they were confident that Shannan would continue to blossom into the best possible version of herself under their careful yet expansive guidance. Her neurological condition was more formally diagnosed when she was one and a half years old, and she did not develop language skills until she reached three and a half years of age. Shannan credits her loving parents with providing her with a broad array of options at a young age; experiential memory-making became her 2LIV4 from the start.

Shannan Williams at a fountain in Europe in her wheelchair with a third front-wheel to help her navigate cobblestone.

Traveling with a Mobility Device: Third Wheel

Shannan’s first trip was to Mexico with her family at only four years old, her parents always encouraging her to thrive in the balance between managing her specific physical needs and living in a way that was not limited by her physical disability. Depending on the day and the distance, Shannan uses both a walker and a wheelchair, but when traveling, her mobility device of choice is her wheelchair. She connects it to a bluetooth device that she wears on her wrist, converting her wheelchair into a power chair. She also has a third wheel for her chair which attaches to the footplate. Castors elevate the chair slightly off the ground, a big plus when navigating uneven pavement and cobblestones. These adaptive measures help to prevent accidents and ensure a much more comfortable ride. Aside from many domestic travel destinations, Shannan has traveled to Mexico, Belize, Curaçao, Bonaire and many other Caribbean locations, and specific international bucket list destinations include London, where she attended Wimbledon, Paris, Rome, and she has also toured Vatican City.

Skiing, Scuba Diving, and Kayaking: Let’s Go!

Four people on a snowy mountain dressed in ski gear including helmets and goggles. One person, Shannan, is using a sit-ski.

Shannan says she “does not sit home well” perhaps because as her early interests expanded, she pursued a diverse array of activities that kept her on the move. Residing in Colorado, skiing was a great fit and at age three, she became the youngest person that the National Sports Center For the Disabled (NSCD) has ever agreed to integrate into their renowned program. She just wrapped her 25th ski season last March. Shannan has also been kayaking in the San Juan Islands of Washington State, a trip arranged by the Outpatient Department at Craig Hospital.

Scuba diving was next on her list of goals, and once her mind was set, she willed her diving certification into existence as she became the second member of the Handicapped Scuba Association to be certified in Colorado, however she proudly lays claim to being the first Coloradan to have achieved this level of certification. She has put it to good use, traveling to many of the Caribbean locations in her travel diary for the express purpose and unique thrill of scuba diving.

A wheelchair sits in the doorway of a boat on open water.

Travel Philosophy — Be Safe

Covid-19 has curtailed travel for many of us, so Shannan is really looking forward to the re-entry trips she has planned. In July, she is off to the Space Coast of Florida to see long time family friends, and she has another trip planned to North Dakota. Her Grandpa evidently has been bitten by the travel bug too; Shannan will accompany him on his quest to lay claim to having visited all 50 states!

When asked what advice she would give to people living with a disability that may need encouragement to step out of their comfort zone, her sage wisdom is to “get out and try new things but plan carefully for it, always be as safe as possible, some things may be challenging, the risk of injury is ever present, but the reward of achievement and memories to last for a lifetime makes it all worth it.” Wanderlust is woven directly into her many reasons 2LIV4, and she wisely deems preparedness as essential to the success of her travels. Shannan encourages would-be adventure seekers to “know your limits, but be open to expansion.” She elaborates further by saying “it is not fear, but wisdom from experience that keeps me off the Black Diamond slopes,” (for non-skiers, the highest difficulty rating at any ski area). Her advice is to “find activities you enjoy and then plan within your own framework, don’t let your disability, whatever it may be, define you.” But she also adds that various aspects of any disability need to be fully understood so a person can have the best adventure experience possible.

Shannan, wearing a baseball cap, leans back from her kayak and gives a thumbs up.

Shannan and 2LIV4’s founder, Greg Cooley, are good friends and they have been on several scuba trips together. Imagine the thrill she experienced when he arranged a flight in a small airplane to celebrate her birthday a few years ago; a pilot friend of his made it all possible. For Shannan, her 2LIV4 is all about acquiring new and unique experiences and sampling different locales and activities. She believes that her drive to seek adventure is the primary force in shaping the sensory, memory-making, experiential kind of woman that she is today.

Another circle around the sun, and Shannan is ready for her travel experiences to resume, just in time to celebrate her birthday. We wish her well and know she will continue to connect to her 2LIV4 passions, carefully planning to conquer any obstacles along the way, exploring new travel destinations and making memories to last a lifetime.

Safe travels, Shannan!

For adaptive recreation opportunities in Colorado, checkout and Craig Hospital Therapeutic Recreation Programs.


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