November 2023
by Todd and Betsy Witt

This whitewater rafting adventure started last winter when we received a phone call from our niece, Callie, who lives in Aspen, Colorado and works for a non-profit called Challenge Aspen. Challenge Aspen is an amazing organization that is dedicated to impacting lives through year-round adaptive experiences for individuals with cognitive and/or physical disabilities.

Callie told us that Challenge Aspen (CA) and her team often works with people who have ALS, just like Todd, and has specifically worked with Team Gleason in making these experiences happen. Callie suggested that Todd should apply for a Team Gleason Adventure and she would help coordinate it through Challenge Aspen. We had heard about Team Gleason but had no idea they provided this type of experience so we jumped at the idea. Todd LOVES the outdoors, we had never been to Aspen, and to have our immediate family involved with the experience? It seemed like a win-win all the way around.

The application process for an Adventure with Team Gleason was incredibly easy and they were very responsive, supportive and generous with Todd’s dream.

One thing Todd has always wanted to do was to go whitewater rafting and through Team Gleason and Challenge Aspen, this was entirely possible. Team Gleason helped us by providing air fare, lodging and our activity at no charge to our family.

We were able to include our daughter, Megan, who is attending college in Montana, and even Callie’s family from Wisconsin joined us for the fun. Talk about a Wolfpack full of love and who were ready for adventure! (Our ALS walk team name is the Witt Wolfpack)

It was literally the week of a lifetime. Our family all arrived in Aspen on the same day at various times and from various locations (Montana, Wisconsin, California) and we were able to stay in one big house together. The weather was absolutely beautiful and the mountains and surrounding towns were stunning. It was so relaxing just to be away from the day to day routine.

We have been traveling every month this past year to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for a stem cell trial for Todd so to be on a trip that didn’t involve doctors and procedures was literally the best thing ever. We felt almost “normal” which is something you really don’t feel anymore when you are living with ALS.

The day of the whitewater rafting adventure was picture perfect. It had rained the night before so the Colorado River was moving faster than usual but that just made the rafting more exciting. Challenge Aspen coordinated with Sage Outdoors for the rafting trip. Our guide, Grant, is an incredibly skilled, knowledgeable and super friendly, upbeat raft guide. Grant and Callie have both worked with people with disabilities and neurodegenerative diseases like Todd so we knew we were in good hands with them.

After some instruction on land, and helmets and life jackets on, our Wolfpack was ready to hit the river. Todd was securely placed in the middle of our raft with the rest of our family surrounding him and Grant right behind him. And off we went! Our family handled the class three rapids like pros – it was absolutely exhilarating and the thrill of a lifetime! The first half of the river had about 6 rapids and then the rest of the trip was smooth sailing. We could sit back, relax and take in the gorgeous canyon scenery – and even hop in the water for a swim. Our time on the water lasted about 3 hours but it felt like it was over in a flash.

 

Truly a huge adrenaline rush for everyone but especially for Todd – his smile and hoops and hollers said it all. For that brief moment in time, we all forgot about ALS and lived life to the fullest. It is a day that will live in our hearts forever. 

Even now, we are still buzzing from all the goodness that came out of that day. We met and made amazing new friends, we were able to spread ALS awareness with others, and we made amazing memories and all became closer as a family from our rafting trip together.

Most importantly, Todd felt so proud he was able to successfully do this adventure. He always tells everyone he is “living the dream” and that day he truly was. The memories Team Gleason gave our family are irreplaceable and something we will cherish forever. Thank you, Team Gleason, from the bottom of our hearts. 

Team Gleason would like the extend a special thank you to Challenge Aspen for their support on this Adventure.