Atlanta, GA,
12:52 PM

Venturing Toward a New Normal

Shepherd Center’s Adventure Skills Workshop attendees leave with new interests, skills, friends and memories.

“I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to get back in the water again,” says Sydney Fowler, 14, of Charleston, S.C., about life after she became paralyzed from the chest down.

An avid athlete who grew up on the water, Sydney became paralyzed from a staph infection in her spinal cord in December 2018. Not being able to get back to sports and life on the water that she loved was a big fear – until she went to Shepherd Center’s Adventure Skills Workshop (ASW).

Held annually on the third weekend in May, ASW is a three-day sports and adventure camp hosted by Shepherd Center’s Recreation Therapy Program. It takes place at Lake Martin at Camp ASCCA, a wheelchair-accessible facility in Jackson’s Gap, Alabama. ASW attendees get hands-on practice in activities they might have been pros at before their injury or illness, as well as activities they would like to try for the first time.

“ASW is like a buffet of sports and activities,” Christi Fowler, Sydney’s mom says. “Sydney went until the sun went down!”

Sydney completed her inpatient and day rehabilitation at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and participated in Beyond Therapy®, Shepherd Center’s rigorous, activity-based rehabilitation program. Just five months after her infection, Sydney was full throttle at ASW.

“I water skied, went tubing, went scuba diving, swimming – all of it,” Sydney says. “I was so newly injured that I didn’t know all of the things I could do. It was my first time back in the water or on a boat since my injury, and it was so much fun.”

Sydney also tried the confidence course, kayaking, skeet shooting, wheelchair basketball, tennis and rugby.

Shepherd Center Board Member and volunteer, Juli Owens, leads a volunteer effort at ASW every year. She says it’s an experience that stays with her all year long.

“This was my fourth year in a row going to ASW, and it never gets old,” Juli says. “The smiles and the laughter from a camper when you see him or her try something like water skiing for the first time after their injury fill your heart and soul, not to mention the tears of joy and gratefulness flowing down your face!”

This year, 50 people attended the workshop, along with caregivers, family members, Shepherd Center staff, donors and volunteers, and the Shepherd family. More than 200 people were onsite altogether.

Every activity was planned especially for those with disabilities in mind. ASW is designed for current and former patients and commu-nity members with spinal cord injury or disease, acquired brain injury, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and transverse myelitis.

Each night at ASW included social activities, which helped fulfill one of the other purposes of the weekend.

“It was fun to meet other people my age who are in similar situations,” Sydney says. “We made so many connections.”

For those who attend ASW, the lessons they learn last well beyond the three-day event.

“People leave here with the skills and passion they need to pursue activities at home that they once thought were impossible,” says Kelly Edens, CTRS, Shepherd Center’s recreation therapy manager. “ASW changes lives.”

Sydney and Christi agree.

“ASW gave us the courage to get back out on our own boat,” Christi says. “On our very next trip home after ASW, we used the tips we learned at ASW. It eased our fears and completely changed our perspective of what is possible.”

ASW is scheduled for May 15 - 17, 2020. Registration will open February 14, 2020. To make a gift to ASW or recreation therapy, contact Courtney Harris at 404-350-3717 or

Written by Kerry Ludlam

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.