BERTHOUD, Colo. — In an empty field full of dirt and weeds, the Bowling family sees possibility.
The field is just a few blocks from their house in Berthoud's Farmstead community, and the Bowlings have a vision: A playground that will be accessible for everyone.
“I often talk about how lucky we are and all the great things. But there are some hard things, too," Lauren Bowling said. "We often have to fight to get things for Miles.”
Because even though Miles Bowling, in many ways, is just like any other 4-year-old boy, in other ways, life is not so simple.
A tumultuous pregnancy
When the Bowlings decided to start their family, they learned it would be a struggle. With the help of IVF and five years of trying, Lauren and her husband Richard Bowling had their first boy, Braxton.
"After we had our first, we did IVF again. We were surprised that it took on the first try. We put one embryo in, and we were very shocked to find out that one embryo split with a less than 1% chance," Lauren said.
The embryo splitting meant the couple was having twins. But the joy soon took a turn when, at just 12 weeks pregnant, the Bowlings found out their babies were sick.
"We were told that the babies had a very, very low chance of survival. But amazingly, shockingly, week after week, they were still alive and still alive and still alive," Lauren said.
Lauren began living at Children's Hospital Colorado at 20 weeks pregnant so she could be monitored around the clock.
At 28 weeks, her doctors determined their babies had a better chance of surviving if she delivered through emergency C-section.
“Both twins were born not breathing and resuscitated at birth, and at some point in that timeframe, Miles lost oxygen long enough that he had a traumatic brain injury, which is called PVL,” Lauren said.
PVL, or periventricular leukomalacia, led to cerebral palsy, something doctors told the Bowlings was a common occurrence in PVL cases. Miles' twin brother, Mack, was not affected, and he was able to develop as expected. Miles has not been impacted verbally or cognitively, but he does require a wheelchair full-time.
Building their life in Berthoud
After the boys were born, Lauren and Richard decided to move from their tri-level in Mead to a new-build community where the builder was willing to make special accommodations to ensure the home was accessible for Miles.
While the home was everything they could dream of, the community was missing a place where all three of the Bowling's boys could play.
“[Miles] really enjoys playing on the playground like most kids, and the closest playgrounds to us that are fully accessible — meaning that a wheelchair has control around the full surface and up onto the equipment all the way up — are in Fort Collins, Westminster and Greeley,” Lauren said.
All of those places are a 40-minute drive from the Bowlings, which sparked an idea.
The Farmstead community is still in the process of being built, so Lauren reached out to the developer, Will Edwards with Edwards Development, to see if there was a way to incorporate something that was ADA-accessible for Miles. Equipment for a playground in the community had already been bought, but he was willing to look into what it would take to get a five-point harness swing.
It turns out that swing would cost $9,000. The developer said if the Bowlings could come up with half of the money, he would cover the rest.
So, the Bowlings got to work. They organized a lemonade stand for the weekend the community was having a two-day garage sale. They got the word out, mixed up enough lemonade for two days and ended up raising $11,000.
And that was just the start of Berthoud Adaptive Park Project.
Building a playground for people of all abilities
"Can’d Aid’s Treads and Trails program is really all about trying to get children off of their screens, get them outside leading healthy and active lives," said Diana Ralston, Can'd Aid founder and CEO. "So, when we heard about Lauren and Miles and the fact that the closest accessible inclusive playground for Miles was 40 minutes away, I think all of us at Can’d Aid are hardwired to just roll up our sleeves, jump in and try to make something happen.”
But the nonprofit wanted to know what it would take to do more than just a swing. The Bowlings and Can'd Aid got together with the developer and they pulled in Star Playgrounds and got to work.
With the help of community input, the group came up with the Berthoud Adaptive Park Project, which will create an inclusive playground that will be accessible for people of all abilities. The farm-themed playspace will feature slides, frog hops, monkey bars, climbers, a merry-go-round, two ziplines and a swing area. It will incorporate accessible elements for children who use mobility aids and challenging elements for able-bodied children as well, creating a truly inclusive environment for all.
“Just the access and ability to play for everyone is a huge piece of your neighborhood, of your city, of loving where you live and taking care of where you live,” said Erin Starr, the chief operating officer for Star Playgrounds.
When asked what he's most looking forward to in the new playground, Miles is particularly excited about the zipline so he can "hang on like a monkey."
A park of this caliber comes with a big price tag — $800,000 — and the Bowling family needs the community's help.
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To help the Bowlings reach their goal, we've started a Denver7 Gives fund, and donations can be made by clicking "Help the Bowlings Build and Adaptive Playground" in Denver7 Gives dropdown menu.
Edwards Development has also committed up to a $100,000 match donation for money raised by the twins’ birthday, May 19. On top of that, Can'd Aid recently announced that Oskar Blues Founder Dale Katcheis donated a completely customized 2012 Jeep Wrangler pickup to be auctioned off with the proceeds going to help fund the park.
"Letting children play together and teaching them that inclusive play this young is a lifelong lesson. It's something that... we see today that the world is missing, and I think that it's something that we can introduce here in our community right now," Lauren said.
The Bowlings hope to break ground on the playground in the fall and have it open by next spring, taking that open field in their neighborhood and turning it into a community playspace for all.
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