Special ed teacher carries girl with cerebral palsy on her back for hikes during 3-day camping trip
A special education teacher refused to let her student’s cerebral palsy stop her from attending the school’s annual camping trip, even if that meant carrying the 10-year-old on her back during three days of hiking.
Maggie Vazquez, a fourth grader at Chicago charter school Academy of Global Citizenship, had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to observe frogs and examine animal prints up close during the school’s 2-night camping trip, all from the back of teacher and school co-founder Helma Wardenaar.
“I really believe that everybody should enjoy [the trip]," Wardenaar told InsideEdition.com. "If we provide this to our walking students then Maggie should be just as much a part of our community. We have students who have learning disabilities or speech problems or medical issues and we say, ‘No, we’re going to try.'"
Wardenaar, who has worked with Maggie and her family for years, said they began discussing last fall whether Maggie would be able to join her class in an annual fourth grade camping trip at the end of May.
"They were saying, ‘What about the hike?'" Maggie recalled. "I can’t use my walker or my wheelchair."
Wardenaar added, "Is it easy for you to get in and out of a tent? Is it easy for you to crawl on and off a blow-up mattress?"
"No," Maggie responded.
Along with Maggie’s parents and staff at local outdoors stores, the group tried to brainstorm different ideas on how to get Maggie involved, knowing it would be near impossible for her to navigate the rocky terrain on her own
"She said to bring a pony," Maggie said, explaining that she has done trails previously on horseback. "But they won’t allow a pony on this trip."
Eventually, they decided to test out a Freeloader Child Carrier – for which at Maggie’s height and weight, she was a little too big for.
But they decided to order then $300 device and give it a shot.
“The first time we did that, it was a bit clumsy," Wardenaar said. "We had to stand on the table and then get on, right? Now we learned you can kind of squat down and she can be guided on that way. At 45-minutes [into] the hike, you said, 'My legs hurt, it’s not comfortable,' so we looked into making adjustments."
During the hike, the pair also battled other discomforts like hot and humid afternoons, getting caught in the rain and mosquito bites, to which Maggie is highly allergic.
Despite working out daily, Wardenaar was arguably on the more uncomfortable end of the device and was left feeling "a little sore."
But she took it in stride, saying, "A hot shower does wonders."
Maggie, who is used to being in the school’s day-to-day life through modified sports activities or a helping hand from friends, said this was her first time getting a shot to participate in a camping trip, and was glad for the chance to participate.
“Happy," Maggie said. "Really joyful."
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