OUTSIDE THE LIMITS
MARQUETTE – Two tourists spent three days hiking around Grand Island last week, a headline that doesn’t necessarily catch the eye.
After all, the island destination practically begs tourists to come view its beautiful landscapes and travel its quiet, woodsy trails.
But anyone who ran into the Florida father-daughter duo of Chris and Kellisa Kain, will surely remember them.
Kellisa, an avid lover of the outdoors, cannot walk on her own. She also has trouble eating and speaking – things most people never think twice about.
Kellisa, 14, has been diagnosed with a slew of disorders in her young life, including cerebral palsy, epilepsy and hydrocephalus – an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. She takes seizure medication twice daily, along with medicine for acid reflux, vitamin supplements and a sedative to help her sleep. She uses a feeding tube to maintain adequate nutrition and all her liquid intake. She has had a total of 22 different surgeries.
But none of that stopped her, or her father, from spending three days on beautiful Grand Island, hiking the same trails that are hiked every year by hundreds if not thousands of people.
Since 2006, Kellisa and Chris have visited 39 states together and 17 national parks.
This year’s trip to Grand Island was in preparation for a planned November hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Chris said he wanted to use the relative isolation he could find on Grand Island to be sure he brought the right equipment to the canyon.
Chris said he takes his daughter on these trips for a variety of reasons – to raise awareness that people with physical and mental disabilities don’t have to be relegated to paved paths and to spend quality time with his oldest child among them.
“I travel a lot for my job so I’m gone a lot during the week,” said Chris, an area technical manager covering the southwest region of the country for a construction chemicals company. “I think it kind of helps make up, spending that kind of one-on-one time with her, 24/7.”
Before their hikes, Chris said he typically consults with Kellisa’s teachers to see what words they are working on – Kellisa can only say one or two words at a time and uses sign language minimally – and tries to find a way to incorporate them into their trip.
It just so happens the last time the two were on Grand Island, that time for only one night several years ago, Kellisa was learning the words “lake” and “big lake.”
By the time they went home, she had both words down.
“At home or in the community or school, she’s usually in a shell. I think it’s because she doesn’t have a lot of confidence,” Chris said. “But when she’s traveling, or we’re out hiking, she’s just nonstop. It makes me feel good to get the most out of her. Especially the communication because I feel strongly that if she could communicate better she’d be a lot happier overall.”
But Chris isn’t just going on these trips for his daughter, though that is his main motivation. He said he’s also hoping to see more people like Kellisa outside.
“What drives me nuts is you never see kids with disabilities out in the outdoors,” Chris said. “In all of our trips, all of our days out, we’ve only seen one other kid out. Sometimes, you see them at the visitors center, but they’re never really out in the outdoors.
“It bothers me because I know how hard it is to get a kid like Kellisa out and doing stuff,” he said. “It’s hard physically. It’s hard mentally. But Kellisa thrives in that, and she can’t be the only one.”
He said he’ s hoping to change the public perception of what people with disabilities -when given the proper equipment and guidance – are capable of doing.
“Whenever you go to these places, when you talk to the local rangers or whoever, they always look at us and they make a quick decision that Kellisa and I can’t do something, and they point us to the little paved trail or the little boardwalk and say, ‘There, that’s for you,'” Chris said. “There’s a closed mindset and we’re trying to open that up … for other kids, build some awareness that there’s more opportunities out there.”
Chris said taking Kellisa hiking allows her to be herself among a group of strangers, something she doesn’t always feel comfortable doing in other settings.
“The outdoor community – the hikers, the kayakers – they really treat Kellisa well and welcome her with open arms,” Chris said. “They talk to her and they’re very, very friendly for the most part. But when she’s in just regular society, whether it be an airport or a mall or a store, it’s almost like she’s invisible. She likes to say ‘Hi’ to people and try to engage them and it’s amazing how much she’s ignored in regular life.”
But it was Kellisa perhaps, who gave the biggest endorsement to the trip as the father-daughter duo was getting ready to board the ferry across the icy blue waters of the lake, back to the mainland where life would return once again to normal.
“As we were going to the ferry, she turned back to look at me and was sign languaging for ‘more,’ and I asked her if she wanted to stay on the island more,” Chris said. “She said yes.”
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is jstark@miningjournal. net.