Elite athlete provides an outdoor camp for other women who use wheelchairs

Imagine competing in 18 bicycling events across the country in under 24 days.

It was nothing for one Colorado athlete. But then an accident changed everything.

What she has managed since that devastating day is now helping transform other lives. 

"I was a competitive cyclist," said Tricia Downing. "In 2000, I was hit by a car and was paralyzed." 

An accident like that would be devastating for anyone, let alone a competitive cyclist. But Downing learned she is first and foremost an elite athlete. 

"The things that got me back to being who I am, or who I feel I am, were the sports that I do," she said.

That is why Downing started Camp Discovery in the mountains near Empire, Colorado. 

"So, I could get other women from that place of being in those challenges and being up against that adversity to being at a place where they can be happy with themselves," she said. 

Camp Discovery is a camp just for women who use wheelchairs. It includes a ropes course, zip line, climbing wall and yoga. All the activities are designed to allow campers to stretch themselves physically and emotionally. 

"My goal for the campers when they leave here is that they leave with confidence, and that they leave with hope," Downing said. 

Camper Sheridan Jones said she loves the camp.

"I have not done rock climbing, aerial yoga or zip line since my accident," she said. "So, it was an adrenaline rush. I feel so free. I love it."

Jill Prichard volunteers at the camp and said many campers come in shy and, sometimes, depressed. 

"And then (they) leave just with a spirit that's through the roof," she said.

Camp Discovery is part of Downing's nonprofit called The Cycle of Hope. It is designed specifically for women because Downing discovered during her recovery that most spinal cord injury patients were men. 

"Sometimes, that is intimidating because they are stronger, and faster and they grunt," she said. "You know guys — and I couldn't talk to them about female things." 

She said she felt the need to reach out to other women who use wheelchairs. 

"You think that I'm the mentor of this program, but it's not me," she said. "It's everyone mentoring everyone else."

But Downing has provided a life-changing experience for hundreds of women. 

And all the campers have to pay is $100. 

"I wanted this to be accessible to everyone," she said. "Having a disability is super expensive."

Using a wheelchair does not have to be limiting, and that's something she strives to teach every woman at Camp Discovery. 

Downing said she hopes to make the Paralympic games in Tokyo in 2020. She competed in pistol events at the games in Rio. 

She is also busy promoting her new book, titled "Chance for Rain."

"The main character is a female who is in a wheelchair," she said. "She's a paralympian and she's looking for love, and worried that she won't find it because she has a disability."

To learn more about The Cycle of Hope and Camp Discovery, visit www.thecycleofhope.org.

To learn more about Downing's new book, "Chance for Rain," go to https://www.amazon.com/Chance-Rain-Novel-Tricia-Downing/dp/0998430234

Mitch Jelniker anchors Denver7 in the mornings from 4:30-7 a.m. He also features a different 7Everyday Hero each week on Denver7. Follow Mitch on Facebook ​​​​​​ and Twitter. Nominate a 7Everyday hero here http://www.Thedenverchannel.Com/nominate-7everyday-hero.

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