With two out of three of Paul Brunsdon’s children participating in adaptive sports and activities, it can be challenging to find an activity that the whole family can join in on.

So when Brunsdon and his wife, Melanie, brought their family to Winona State University’s recent adaptive climbing event, it was a meaningful experience to watch all three children participate together.

The Brunsdons were just a few of the Winona community members able to take part in the adaptive climbing event this fall. The event, held at WSU’s Outdoor Education and Recreation Center (OERC), provided an opportunity for individuals of all ages and abilities to climb with each other.

And soon, Winona State will offer more opportunities for the Winona community to climb, no matter the ability level.

“Winona State has the largest climbing center of any university in the Midwest, and now we’re one of only two certified adaptive climbing centers in Midwest institutions,” said Mike Henderson, the director of the OERC.

Leading up to this event, the OERC paired up with Paradox Sports to host a multiday training workshop for adaptive climbing. WSU students and faculty were able to spend a full day doing classwork and another full day doing hands-on training.

“They’re not just throwing this thing together,” event attendee Jon Gunnarson said. “They’re making it a professional event and making… it something that’s successful and enjoyable.”

Gunnarson, a parent who has supported his children through numerous adaptive sports, said he’s excited to see more opportunities to get his sons involved in adaptive activities in the Winona area.

Families seeking programs for adaptive athletes often find their options limited, he said. For example, one participant at WSU’s adaptive climbing event drove from Mankato to climb with the group.

“If you’re up in the Twin Cities area there’s so many programs and things that are available for para-athletes or adaptive athletes,” Gunnarson said. “Being down here, that’s a big commute and a big commitment driving a couple hours each way back and forth. There’s not as many of those opportunities down here for us.”

In the future, Henderson hopes to become a listed partner with Paradox Sports and to make Winona State a leader in adaptive adventure sports.

“We just like getting people psyched on what gets us psyched,” Henderson said.

Having adaptive climbing training and hosting events like this, along with potential future offerings, will help create a more inclusive and active Winona community, said Henderson. At the same time, it provides real-world experience for Physical Education and Sports Science students at WSU, giving them a hiring advantage when they graduate and start looking for jobs.

“We want (our students) to be leaders and be a real asset to an organization,” Henderson said.

The OERC currently has multiple programs to reduce barriers for access to adventure, from free climbing on Sugar Loaf and discounted family nights at the climbing wall to upcoming collaborations with local organizations and local para sports teams to increase both accessibility and awareness.

“It’s important to our community,” said Henderson. “We all just need to play more, and we forget to do that.”