Access to sport: Achieve Tahoe serves as a pillar of accessible outdoor recreation the Lake Tahoe Basin

Achieve Tahoe offers sailing as a summer program.
Provided / Achieve Tahoe

The Tahoe Basin is home to rich history, rugged terrain, and endless adventure. With rigorous outdoor activities at one’s fingertips throughout the summer season such as camping, hiking, biking, boating, and more – Lake Tahoe is the place on the West Coast to avidly recreate outdoors. 

Many of the businesses and organizations that host outdoor adventure throughout Lake Tahoe have proactively adapted towards providing an inclusive experience for all to enjoy, including individuals who need specific physical and mental adaptations to properly enjoy outdoor activities. 

Adaptive sports, also known as parasports, are competitive or recreational sports that are played by individuals with a physical or intellectual disability. Adaptive sports typically run parallel to the traditional sports activity, however, modifications are specifically tethered to fit one’s needs. 

Traditional sports such as baseball, basketball, and soccer have made proactive adaptations for accessibility; as well as more Tahoe-centric recreational activities have adapted, such as water-skiing, climbing, equestrian, hiking, and sailing. 

Nonprofit organization Achieve Tahoe is a pillar of adaptive outdoor recreation in the Lake Tahoe area, providing inclusive physical and recreational activities that proactively build health, confidence, and independence. Founded in 1967 by Jim Winthers, a World War II Veteran of the 10th Mountain Division and Director of Soda Springs Ski School. Winthers brought together a small group of Vietnam War Veterans with disabilities, who taught themselves how to ski and found adaptive pieces of equipment to do so. During the late 1960’s, adaptive sports equipment was nonexistent, however Winthers was optimistic that adaptive equipment in a formalized program would be received well by the local community; and thus, Achieve Tahoe was born. 

Currently, Achieve Tahoe still serves as a hub for the local community and visitors to the Lake Tahoe region to enjoy outdoor recreation sports year-round that aren’t typically accessible without proper adaptations. The nonprofit provides program participation to individuals with cognitive, sensory, and physical disabilities. 

“Achieve Tahoe’s mission is to provide affordable, inclusive, adaptive recreation to people with any type of disability, of any age,” Marina Gardiner, Guest Services Director at Achieve Tahoe said. “We focus on health, confidence, and independence so that the experience people have with us is long-lasting and carries over into other areas of their life.” 

Achieve Tahoe offers kayaking as a summer activity.
Provided / Achieve Tahoe

When the nonprofit began in the late 1960’s, their flagship program was snowsports. In the past several years, Achieve Tahoe has been rapidly increasing their roster of summer programs.

“We want our summer offerings to match the quantity and quality of our winter programs, and in this last year we really have achieved that goal of doing as many days in the summer and as many experiences offered as we do in the winter,” Gardiner said. 

Currently, Achieve Tahoe offers archery, climbing, equestrian, hiking, sailing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding, and water skiing. Additionally, the nonprofit hosts their Sierra Summer Sports program, a full day for individuals to participate in canoeing, kayaking, paddle-boarding, jet-skiing, and tubing on Donner Lake. 

“Through our Sierra Summer Sports program, we offer all four activities in one day, it’s more like a summer camp, people come for the activities, we do lunch, and it’s definitely our most popular of our summer programs,” Gardiner said. “We’ve been doing the Sierra Summer Sports program for a long time, and we’re really starting to see increased interest in all our summer programs overall. It’s been fun to watch those programs grow over the years and see people get more interested in them.” 

Below is a detailed list of the summer activities that Achieve Tahoe will be hosting for the summer season.

Activity Description
Archery Adaptive archery helps archers who require modified equipment to accommodate physical or nonphysical disabilities. Achieve Tahoe helps individuals learn how to shoot a bow-and-arrow. The Achieve Tahoe team will set up adaptive archery ranges around the North Tahoe area so people of all ages and ability levels can engage with the sport of archery in a safe, fun environment.
Climbing Climbing program participants work individually, one-on-one, with an instructor to learn climbing techniques, rope management, and safety communication.
Equestrian Hiking At Tahoe Donner’s Alder Creek Adventure Center in Truckee, Achieve Tahoe program participants learn horsemanship as well as riding skills in an environment designed to fit their needs and specific learning style/s. This program is designed to improve physical, cognitive, emotional, and social well-being for people of all abilities. Achieve Tahoe staff will guide small, intimate groups of hikers on educational trail adventures. Hikers will learn about the history, ecology, and wildlife in the local area while engaging in the challenge of hiking. All hiking paths through Achieve Tahoe have been carefully considered to ensure the safety and accessibility of program participants.
SailingHosted on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe, the sailing program allows for a wide range of abilities to harness the power of the wind on Lake Tahoe. From a first-time experience to learning how to sail independently, all skill levels are welcomed to this program. Lessons consist of basic water safety, boating skills, tacking, jibing, rigging, and more.
Paddle SportsFlat-water paddling is easily accessible through Achieve Tahoe. The nonprofit offers kayak and paddle-boarding lessons out of Obexer’s Boat Company on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe in Homewood, Calif. Lessons are available, as well as guided tours.
Water-Skiing A collaborative activity, adaptive water-skiing through Achieve Tahoe is hosted just north of Sacramento at Wake Island Waterpark. From beginner to advanced skiers, seated or standing, participants can enjoy one-on-one instruction from experienced, adaptive water ski instructors and trained volunteers.

In addition to the inclusive summer sports programs, Achieve Tahoe takes it an extra step further, extending the invitation to enjoy these summer activities to not just program participants, but also close friends and family. 

“In the summer specifically, we offer all of our programs to people with disabilities, as well as their friends and family,” Gardiner said. “Any close friends or family that want to come and participate in that sport with their friend or family member that has a disability is welcome to join us. We believe recreation should be a social activity, and we like to be able to include familiarity in those activities so those with disabilities are getting the chance to learn to do those things and experience them with their friends and family, just like a typical individual.” 

With Achieve Tahoe hosting a variety of summer programs, the nonprofit credits their growth and success in the Lake Tahoe community to not just program participants, but the consistent help of their volunteers. 

“We staff our summer programs with a small handful of Achieve Tahoe employees, however we work with around 200 volunteer instructors year-round,” Gardiner said. “There’s just something about this community that’s valuable; the community seems to really care about what we do and who are excited about the outdoors and recreation who want to share that with others.” 

Hiking is summer activity available through Achieve Tahoe.
Provided / Achieve Tahoe

The nonprofit avidly takes on new volunteers throughout the summer and winter seasons, and there is little experience required to get involved and participate in volunteering.

“People generally come to us with a good attitude, excited about the work they’re doing, excited to share the work they’re doing with program participants and other volunteers, so I think it creates a different, unique atmosphere than just the traditional day at the lake,” Gardiner said.

One of the core values of Achieve Tahoe is keeping the programs accessible, both with adaptations, as well as financially accessible to participants. 

“As a nonprofit, our program fees only cover 20% of our costs, the rest of the budget is covered by fundraising,” Gardiner said. “Individual donations, foundations, corporations, and events really help us to raise money to continue our efforts in accessible, year-round sports.” 

Achieve Tahoe does several fundraising events each year to continue sustaining and growing their accessible programs, and keeping these programs financially feasible for program participants. Ongoing fundraising events include the Ability Challenge Fundraiser, Foam Fest, and the annual Achieve Tahoe Spring Gala. 

“We really rely on our donors to keep our programs running,” Gardiner said. “We intentionally keep our [program] fees incredibly low, because we want to make sure that point of entry is accessible for most people.” 

Achieve Tahoe is a vital resource to accessibility in the Lake Tahoe region and looks forward to continuing to provide adaptive, outdoor recreation activities to their program participants to influence their lives and promote outdoor education and overall independence. 

“We are here as a resource in Lake Tahoe for finding access and for getting out there and enjoying the recreation that most people come to Lake Tahoe come to participate in,” Gardiner said. “Tahoe is not the most accessible place, and we are working towards making it more accessible, and make it so when people come here, you have the ability to get out there and do the things that everyone else is doing. You can trust that the logistical, potential roadblocks you might find as someone with a disability, the Achieve Tahoe team has found and accommodated for them.” 

Editor’s Note: While Achieve Tahoe is one of Lake Tahoe’s founders of accessible, outdoor recreational activities, there are a handful of businesses and organizations that are proactively working towards providing accessibility in summer sports. This article originally appeared in the 2023 edition of Tahoe Magazine.

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