I first crossed paths with Kevin Schwieger a few months ago at AT Trail Days,
and I was truly captivated by his innovative approach to making trails accessible for those who may face physical limitations. While many of us often discuss the importance of encouraging others to embrace the outdoors, Luke5Adventures is truly leading the way by turning those discussions into action. Luke5Adventures are actively enabling people to experience the beauty of nature, regardless of their physical abilities.
Kevin, share a bit about yourself and Luke5Adventures?
My whole adult career life I've been in a pastoral ministry. I was a missionary kid, grew up in East Africa in the mission field and then as an adult was serving at different churches. For the last 12 years I was serving at a church here in suburban Cincinnati.
I am also an adventurer backpacker, hiker, climber all that. About this time four years ago, I had returned from a particularly inspiring hike, and I was all anxious to tell people about what I found on a different trail. I walked into church that next Sunday morning, and one of the first people I encountered was this older lady who is in a wheelchair from a car accident twenty years ago. She’s paralyzed from the neck down. Her name is Debbie, just a sweet lady, love her. So, I walked up to her and I almost said, “Debbie you should have seen…” I was about ready to describe what I had seen, and in that moment it just felt really really awkward and inappropriate to share all that excitement about something that she could never ever experience.
So that conversation had never happened just haunted me. For days after that, I just thought that this is not cool, we have to figure out some way to get people like her to places where I've been. So I just got on the internet, started looking and looking, and it was really frustrating because there's adaptive equipment for seemingly every sport you could even name; skiing, sailing, you name it, except for just regular old hiking in the woods. I couldn't figure it out, but finally I came across this piece of equipment we now use. It’s manufactured in France, and they're one of only two companies in the world that make anything remotely like it.
I hurried up made some phone calls to raise the money. I had it (“chair-cycle”) shipped over, and a few days before Christmas 2019, I took Debbie to a local State Park. We were down in the Creek bed and up and over fallen trees, and on a suspension bridge. That just rocked her world as well as rocked our world. Being able to make that impossibility possible for her. I just started sharing stuff on social media, where it kind of got around our area and pretty soon a lady from the physical therapy department at Children's Hospital here in Cincinnati gave me a call and said we do this hiking series for a bunch of kids that have come through our program, but a lot of them have mobility challenges and just aren't able to participate. Would you come alongside and help us allow those kid? We did an eight week series with Children's Hospital, and so I just started getting calls from all these other organizations.
What equipment are you using?
There’s this company called Joelette Co., who have been making these (awesomely engineered “chair-cycle” using the concept of old-fashioned mountain rescue apparatus.) for over 20 years.
In the last 3 1/2 years we've bought close to 40 of them for our different chapters we have 10 of them here in Cincinnati previous to us he had sold like 3 so it just hasn't made it made its way over to the US, but that piece of equipment is absolutely amazing. It'll go anywhere you and I can go except maybe a ladder, and we've hiked in some really extreme places.
Where does the name Luke5Adventures come from?
Luke5Adventures is a biblical reference. The account in the fifth chapter of Luke is the story of the group of friends that had a paralyzed friend, and they wanted to take him to go see where Jesus was talking. He couldn't go on his own, so they banded together, built a stretcher, and they took him there. It was so crowded they couldn't get in, so they got all creative and relentless, and busted a hole through the roof and lowered him down. That group of friends was undeterred and relentless and creative to allow their friend to go see something amazing that he couldn't see on his own, and that's what we do.
How are you setting up hiking events?
The world of disability is actually pretty close-knit. A lot of these people are in therapy groups together or different medical situations or group homes, and so word gets around very, very quickly. Most of what we do here in Cincinnati is collaborate with these other organizations, so we'll say to Children's Hospital, “hey we'll do your annual eight-week hiking series.” It's their clients that we're serving. Cincinnati Association for the Blind & Visually Impaired, “Hey let's do a monthly hike with you guys.” They're probably a dozen of those different ones we say, “well let's do a monthly hike with you, and a monthly hike with you.” We're serving their clients, and then once we have their information of their clients, and we build a relationship with them, then we communicate with them independently outside of their organization too. So, here in Cincinnati we have events every single weekend, and most Thursdays. We'll have 60 to 70 events between April and October. We'll do 350 to 400 hikes just in Cincinnati annually.
How many chapters does Luke5Adventures have?
I’m doing this full time now. We’ve separated from the church, we now have six staff members. We have nine chapters spread all around the country, soon to be 11, we have two more launching this summer, and then three more that are kind of in the wings collectively doing hundreds and hundreds of hikes a year.
How can we help you to continue getting those living with disabilities out in nature? Because I know it take funds to do the grand work that Luke5Adventures is doing.
We covenanted from the get-go that we would not charge for any of this. I told myself, and then everybody else that I would much rather spend all my time going to find money than to have a conversation with the family about how much this is going to cost them. So, certainly we'll take all the money we can get, and from telling our story through you and through Oboz, brings to light our need, and you just never know who's going to read that story that is compelled to help support. So, we're fairly equally supported through personal donations corporate donations and then grants. All our services are absolutely free, all over the country. We’re supported through generous donations.
*You can get a hold of Kevin Schwieger and his team for donation information at www.luke5adventures.org
Any final words you’d like to share with us?
I begin part of my storytelling or talking points by saying that there's no way to measure the exact number, but 99.999% of nature and natural spaces, and in our lingo, we would say creation, is outside of the context of the room or the sidewalk. This world is ginormous and 90 plus percent of it is not in the room or the sidewalk, but through no fault of their own hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people are limited to the .001% with no opportunity to go see the 99.999% and so that's our relentless pursuit is to reintroduce or introduce for the first time the 99.999%. We wake up thinking about it, and we go to bed thinking about it, and all day long, and every day.