Our guest this week is Nate Boltz of Anchorage, AK who is executive director at Challenge Alaska and father of two, including one with Spina Bifida.
Nate and his wife, Leah, have been married for 20 years and are the proud parents of two: Adeline (5) and Anna (16) who has Spina Bifida.
Born in Bozeman, MT and raised in Fairbanks and Anchorage, Nate has always enjoyed the outdoors and athletics, including: skiing, hiking and endurance sports.
Challenge Alaska is a non-profit dedicated to adaptive athletics and therapeutic recreation. Leah is also co-founder of Parks for All, a non-profit that designs and builds playgrounds that emphasize accessibility and inclusion, which has spread across the state of Alaska.
We also learn about a range of other organizations, including: Equate Assist Therapy Alaska, Move United Association Therapeutics, Stay Focused and the National Ability Center.
It’s an uplifting story about strong family values, a love of athletics, merged with inclusion, acceptance and service to the community all on this episode of the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Email – Nate@challengealaska.org
Website – https://www.challengealaska.org/
Phone – 907-344-7399
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/nate-boltz-11a92137/
Parks For All – https://www.facebook.com/parksforall/
Stay Focused – https://stay-focused.org/
Move United – https://moveunitedsport.org/
Program for Infants and Children – https://www.picak.org/home
Tom Couch: [00:00:00] Special thanks to Horizon Therapeutics for sponsoring the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast, working tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics’ mission at HorizonTherapeutics.com.
Nate Boltz: Surround yourself with positive people and never, ever settle for anything but the best for your child. You can set things up for them to achieve anything that they want to achieve and are willing to put the effort into going after.
Tom Couch: That’s our guest this week, Nate Boltz, the founder and Executive Director of Challenge Alaska, a not for profit dedicated to adaptive athletics and therapeutic recreation. Eric and his wife Leah have two children, [00:01:00] one of whom, Anna, has spina bifida. The Boltz family loves nothing more than heading out into the great outdoors, and we’ll hear about their adventures and more in this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Say hello now to the host of the Dad to Dad Podcast and founder of the Special Fathers Network, David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Dad to Dad Podcast, fathers mentoring fathers of children with special needs presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to Facebook.com, groups, and search “dad to dad.” [00:02:00] Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story or know of a compelling story, please send an email to David@21stCenturyDads.org.
Tom Couch: So let’s hear now this fascinating conversation between Nate Boltz and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Nate Boltz of Anchorage, Alaska, who’s a former IT professional, father of two, and Executive Director at Challenge Alaska, a not for profit dedicated to adaptive athletics and therapeutic recreation. Nate, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Nate Boltz: Thanks for having me.
David Hirsch: You and your wife Leah have been married for 20 years and are the proud parents of two daughters: Adeline 5, and Anna 16, who has spina bifida. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Nate Boltz: I was born in Bozeman, Montana while my parents were finishing up college. Immediately following college my [00:03:00] parents moved to Wichita, Kansas briefly and then settled into a small town called North Pole, Alaska where I spent my early childhood years. I moved down to Anchorage, Alaska when I was a 10-year old and have lived in the Anchorage area ever since.
David Hirsch: And did you have any siblings when you were growing up?
Nate Boltz: Yeah, I have an older sister named Carrie. We’ve been very close our entire life and still are today.
David Hirsch: Is she still in Alaska?
Nate Boltz: She is. She lives about 15 miles from me and we see each other numerous times a week.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. It’s always reassuring to hear of families that stay close like yours. I’m curious to know what does your dad do for a living?
Nate Boltz: My dad is retired, but he’s a retired oil industry executive. He worked for a company that did petroleum refining in the Fairbanks area and the Valdez, Alaska area.
David Hirsch: I’m wondering, how would you characterize [00:04:00] your relationship with your dad?
Nate Boltz: My dad and I are extremely close to this day. Always have been. I was blessed with young parents. My childhood was filled recreating with my father. Getting out in the woods anytime we can. And to this day, we water ski together every weekend during the summer.
David Hirsch: Your dad still water skis?
Nate Boltz: He does. He does. 68 and he’s out there every morning with me on the weekends.
David Hirsch: He’s my new role model.
Nate Boltz: Mine too.
David Hirsch: So I’m curious now if there’s any important takeaways from your relationship with your dad, perhaps lessons learned that you’ve tried to incorporate into your own fathering?
Nate Boltz: My dad growing up was a shining example for not only setting aspirational goals for yourself, but also putting in the work that it takes to achieve those goals. He worked very hard for everything that he achieved in life and set that example for both my sister and I growing up, [00:05:00] both my parents for that matter. They worked extremely hard for everything they have and instilled those values on those.
David Hirsch: So what I heard you say is that he has a good work ethic and that he was goal-oriented, and those are some of the same characteristics that you’ve adopted as well.
Nate Boltz: Absolutely, but at the same time, he also knew how to have fun. He knew the importance of having fun. I spent a lot of time recreating with my dad. I spent a lot of time doing sports and activities with him. I always understood that my dad was my dad. He wasn’t my friend, he wasn’t there to give me everything I wanted. He was there to make sure he raised a responsible, productive human that valued family, that valued friends, and that worked hard for everything that he wanted.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. It sounds like he’s been a great role model to both you and your sister and I suspect many other people for that matter. So I’m curious to know what if any [00:06:00] relationship did you have with your grandfathers, first on your dad’s side, and then on your mom’s side.
Nate Boltz: So on my my mother’s side, my maternal grandfather passed away when I was a baby, so I really didn’t have the benefit of knowing him. However he instilled in my mom a lot of wonderful values as well. However, my paternal grandfather, I was extremely close with through my early childhood and into adulthood. You think about your hero of a grandfather and my grandfather was very much a hero of mine growing up. Physically, he was a very large man, 6 foot 5, and he was larger than life in all aspects, personality-wise, as well as just physically, and I worshipped the ground that my grandfather walked on as a small child.
David Hirsch: Yeah it is amazing the impact that grandfathers can have on our lives. It wasn’t my paternal grandfather, but my maternal grandfather that had that type of impact on me. And I looked up to him as a little [00:07:00] guy when I was growing up and then I towered over him because he wasn’t as physically present as the grandfather that you were just talking about. But he lived to age 93 and I got to know him as an adult and I cherish that relationship. I know I would not be the person I am today without that. Thrilled that you had a meaningful relationship with at least one of your grandfathers. Is there anything else you wanted to say about your dad or your grandfathers?
Nate Boltz: No, just that I never take for granted how fortunate I am to have had both of them in my life to the extent that I do.
David Hirsch: I’m curious to know, were there any other men who played an important role in your life when you were growing up or perhaps as a young adult?
Nate Boltz: As a young adult, one individual comes to mind. There was a gentleman named Harry Johnson. He in a lot of respects acted as a second father to me during my high school years, especially some of the activities that I was interested in [00:08:00] pursuing, things like triathlon and endurance sport in general. He acted in a mentor role, showing me to be goal-oriented when it came to sports and recreation opportunities, as well as spirit of entrepreneurship and things like that. I deeply value what I learned from him growing up.
And then I’m also incredibly grateful to all the coaches that I had growing up. I was a competitive swimmer growing up and my life revolved around the swimming pool and many lessons were taught and learned from the coaches that provided services to me growing up.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So I’m thinking about your education. My recollection was that you went to Montana State University as well as the University of Alaska at Anchorage. And I’m wondering, when you finished with your education, where did you think your career was going to take you?
Nate Boltz: I wasn’t sure. I was working in IT as a way of [00:09:00] paying my way through school. So I knew that information technology was going to be a focus in my career, but it was not the passion that I had in life. It was an aptitude I had. IT and technology in general wasn’t what got me out of bed in the morning. So I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, when I wrapped up my education.
David Hirsch: You spent quite a few years in the IT area initially with Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, and then ECS Computers. So it wasn’t like a stepping stone.
Nate Boltz: No it wasn’t but there was a logical progression with how it went. It wasn’t until my daughter was born that I identified my true passion in life.
David Hirsch: Gotcha. I’m curious to know, how did you and Leah meet?
Nate Boltz: Leah and I met as students at Montana State University in Bozeman. We had a Physics class together and ended up sitting next to each other in class and I mustered up the courage to ask her out on a [00:10:00] date and everything since then is history. She is by far the best thing that I brought back from Montana State University to the state of Alaska. [laughing]
David Hirsch: You can literally say that you took more than an education away from Montana State University.
Nate Boltz: Absolutely.
David Hirsch: Let’s talk about special needs first on a personal level and then beyond. So I’m curious to know prior to Anna’s diagnosis, did you or Leah have any connections to the world of disability or special needs?
Nate Boltz: No, neither of us. We really didn’t.
David Hirsch: So what is Anna’s diagnosis and how did it come about?
Nate Boltz: Anna was born with spina bifida. We learned of her diagnosis during her 20-week gestational ultrasound. We knew something was up when the sonographer got really quiet and dropped [00:11:00] the small talk during the appointment and started taking a lot of extra pictures on one area of Anna’s body.
David Hirsch: You’ve just brought back to my memory something I hadn’t thought about for years and it was in vitro when my wife was pregnant with what would be our second child and we were sitting there at one of those ultrasounds and the technician jumped almost, like startled. And then she goes, “You’ll have to excuse me” and she leaves the room. I’m like, oh my god, what happened? And she comes back in and a supervisor or maybe the doctor comes in and does a quick scan of what’s going on and then said, “Oh, did you know that you were having twins?” And my wife’s got this really frozen look on her face, like this is the last thing that she’d ever want was twins. And I’m like, oh my gosh, this is it. We’re going to have twins. I’m really excited. And then moments later, the doctor says unfortunately [00:12:00] one of the fetuses is not viable. And this was at about 20 weeks as well. So that cast us into a high risk pregnancy because the body is going to try to discharge the non-viable fetus. And It was quite a journey from that point going forward.
So back to your situation, you learned that there were these unique circumstances around your first child’s birth, and I’m wondering what were some of the decisions or thoughts that took place from that ultrasound going forward?
Nate Boltz: Oh goodness, similar to your story, the one from the sonographer taking a lot of extra pictures and us not quite knowing what’s going on. The same type of thing, asking if we would just sit tight while he then spoke with the doctor. And then the doctor, a wonderful physician named Peter Adams, told us that we could go ahead and get dressed and that we would continue the rest of this visit in his office. And that’s when we knew something was up.
We went into [00:13:00] Dr. Adams’ office. He was chief of staff for a major medical complex here in Alaska. He’s delivered thousands and thousands of babies and he says, I don’t know how to tell you this, but your daughter is going to be born with a condition called myelomeningocele, which is the type of spina bifida she has.
So he wanted to inform us of the rights we had as parents, whether we wanted to continue the pregnancy, whether we wanted to look at terminating the pregnancy. More than anything we wanted more information. So I asked him, do you have any information? And I remember he reached behind him and he grabbed one of his medical school textbooks and he turns to a chapter and he hands me the book. And I read a couple of paragraphs they have on myelomeningocele. And I remember first off understanding about two out of every five words in [00:14:00] that medical description of what myelomeningocele was. [both laughing] And then the terror of having your first parenting decision that you need to make be whether to continue on with the pregnancy. I don’t wish that decision on anyone.
From there, Leah and I went about trying to find any and all information that we could about spina bifida, about myelomeningocele, about the related conditions that go along with those diagnoses. And let me tell ya, I don’t know if it’s changed much since, I certainly hope it has, but the internet was full of doom and gloom 17 years ago. Some good friends of ours, Nathaniel and Wendy Gates, who are now Anna’s godparents, we opened up to them. They were the first people that we spoke with about it and they said you’re not gonna believe this, but we [00:15:00] have some other friends that have a daughter born with this same condition. Maybe we can get you in touch with them. So we took them up on that. They made those introductions and the first ray of sunshine that we received was that conversation with them.
And that was the turning point where we realized that, not only can this baby survive, this baby can thrive in life as well. They gave us options. Their daughter was born through the MOMS trial, which was a trial studying in vitro surgical correction of spina bifida lesion. It was after this conversation with them that we were able to actually come up with a plan and get excited about being parents again.
David Hirsch: How fortunate you were to have friends like Wendy and Nathaniel Gates, who could put you in contact with somebody who had already been [00:16:00] there and done that, if you will, to give you some insights, not from a medical perspective, but just from one parent to the next from their first hand experience. What a godsend that is. And just out of curiosity, this was all happening in vitro before Anna was born?
Nate Boltz: Yes.
David Hirsch: Were there any procedures that were done prior to her birth, or was it just knowing a little bit more about this in anticipation of her birth?
Nate Boltz: When we did make that decision to keep moving forward and to do everything we can for our unborn daughter – we didn’t know it was a daughter at the time – we searched out what the best options were for her long term prognosis. And at the time there was some promising research going into in utero surgery to correct spina bifida lesions. And the only way in the United States that you could do it was to enroll in the MOMS trial. So we got the ball rolling on that. We’re still [00:17:00] dealing with probably the foremost authority on pediatric neurosurgery operating on our daughter. You know, it’s a win-win situation. So we enrolled in the study.
We were down in San Francisco for all this. So we would travel back home to Anchorage for the duration of Leah’s pregnancy and then fly back down to San Francisco for a scheduled cesarean section and the subsequent surgeries to address Anna’s continued medical needs. I attribute how well Anna is doing in her life much to the medical care that she received both prenatally and immediately post-birth.
David Hirsch: Thanks for sharing. What a challenging pregnancy and shortly thereafter based on the procedures that were required. Were there important decisions subsequent to that you can look back and say, these were really instrumental in Anna’s development or on behalf of the family? [00:18:00]
Nate Boltz: I think aside from the decisions that we had to make on Anna’s primary care team, I think those are some of the most influential decisions that we had to make. The state of Alaska is a very large state by landmass. However, it’s an incredibly small state by population base. And so for complex medical care, we just don’t have the population base to make sure that all diagnoses are represented to where the physicians have a significant patient base. So we really have to travel outside of the state of Alaska for all of our care.
David Hirsch: So that’s one of the challenges that you have.
Nate Boltz: Absolutely. But along with that, because you have to travel, you’re given the luxury of figuring out where best to do that. And we’re blessed by having an incredibly gifted primary care team for Anna, based out of Children’s Hospital in Seattle, which is a pretty short trip from Anchorage.[00:19:00]
David Hirsch: Not to focus on the negative, you had mentioned that the distance you have to travel for certain healthcare needs is one of the challenges. What have been some of the more consequential challenges that you’ve encountered on Anna’s behalf during her first 16 years?
Nate Boltz: I think Anna’s been pretty blessed with good health and hasn’t had a lot of the really complex medical conditions that a lot of kids born with spina bifida have to deal with. So a lot of the more difficult things with Hannah’s upbringing have been the limitations that external influences have tried to put on her. Things like not realizing the potential that she has as an individual, as a student, as an athlete. From a parenting standpoint, those have been by far the most frustrating things that we’ve had to deal with and overcome, and make sure that we’re raising an [00:20:00] individual that isn’t afraid to try new things and isn’t afraid to achieve.
David Hirsch: Yeah, it sounds like as far as the path for somebody with spina bifida, she hasn’t hit too many of the landmines, the more challenging landmines if I can refer to them as such. But you’re describing the societal challenges for somebody who has differences, whether they’re intellectual or physical differences, and I don’t know that there’s any simple solution to that, right? It’s not oh, you read this book or you familiarize yourself with this information and it takes care of itself. It’s an evolving situation. And it sounds like you’ve been able to expose her to quite a few opportunities as a young person to help build her confidence and err on the side of engaging or trying things, which is really important for any young person, not just a person with Anna’s [00:21:00] diagnosis.
Nate Boltz: Absolutely.
David Hirsch: I’m curious to know what impact Anna’s situation has had on her younger sister, if any, your marriage, or the extended family for that matter.
Nate Boltz: That’s a great question. One funny story comes to mind with how it affected her little sister. Anna, because of her diagnosis, uses a manual wheelchair as her primary method of ambulation. And her little sister, who is typical, for the longest time, when she was learning how to walk, she didn’t realize that she could walk without holding onto Anna’s wheelchair. She learned how to walk by using Anna’s wheelchair as basically a walker. [David laughing] And so that’s a quite literal example of how it affected Adeline’s upbringing.
Being the parent of a special needs kid brings with it a whole host of additional stressors on family, on your marriage, on things like that. But Leah [00:22:00] and I are an incredible team and I can’t think of a single instance where the circumstances that Anna was dealt affected our relationship in anything other than a positive way. We really embraced the diagnosis, embraced a method for Anna to live life to its fullest, and that has impacted every facet of our relationship.
How it’s affected our extended family…. My wonderful parents, when they were making renovations to their house, they made their house completely accessible to Anna, all the way to putting in wheelchair lifts and things like that. It definitely impacts not only the immediate family, but the extended family.
My wife was an only child growing up, and let me tell you when that only child had the only grandchild and when that only grandchild has complex medical needs, it [00:23:00] didn’t take long for Leah’s parents to decide that the only place better than Montana for fly fishing and skiing is Alaska and they should move up there and be closer to that only child and that only grandchild. So we’re very blessed with the family that we keep.
David Hirsch: So did you say that your in-laws also live in Alaska now?
Nate Boltz: They do. And over the years, not only has Leah’s parents moved up here, but her uncle has relocated to Alaska from California, and her grandmother has relocated up here as well. So we’re very blessed to have a significant family base up here.
David Hirsch: The image that I’m getting is that Anna could be a poster child for the Alaska Department of Commerce.
Nate Boltz: [laughing] That’s very true.
David Hirsch: Drawing people to the state of Alaska. I love it. Thanks for sharing. It really underscores the family values that your family shares, right? The importance of family and coming together.
Tom Couch: We’ll be back with more of the [00:24:00] conversation on the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad podcast in just a few moments. But first, this quick message. Please help 21st Century Dads gather research on families raising children with special needs by having them complete the Special Fathers Network Early Intervention Parents survey. A link to the survey can be found in the show notes. As a token, each person, mom or dad, who completes the survey will receive a Great Dad Coin. Thank you. Now, back to the conversation.
David Hirsch: So I’m thinking about supporting organizations. I’m wondering what organizations has Anna benefited from directly, or your family benefited directly as a result of her situation.
Nate Boltz: There’s an Alaska organization called PIC, Programs for Infants & Children. That was her introduction into both physical and occupational therapies. That was her early socialization. That was an [00:25:00] absolutely wonderful organization.
But then as she grew, some of the other organizations that played a huge role in Anna’s life have been the adaptive sports and therapeutic recreation organizations like Challenge Alaska, like Equine Assisted Therapy of Alaska, Stay Focused, Higher Ground out of Sun Valley, Idaho, the National Sports Center for the Disabled. There’s a whole host of organizations that Anna has benefited from.
David Hirsch: It’s obvious that you’ve erred on the side of encouraging her to be involved in activities, lots of different activities, whether it’s with equestrian type activities or sporting activities. And the one that caught my attention was Stay Focused. And I’d like to drill down on that only because there’s another dad, Greg Chalmers, and his son, Ryan, who’ve been instrumentally involved in Stay Focused. [00:26:00] I’ll let you take the lead to talk about what Stay Focused is.
Nate Boltz: So Stay Focused is an organization based out of New York City and operating out of Grand Cayman that introduces special needs teenagers to scuba diving. They go through all the prerequisite classes and online learning before a trip. And then Involvement with the program culminates in the individual traveling down to Grand Cayman and wrapping up the learning and going through all the certification dives to become a PADI certified scuba diver. My daughter Anna was blessed to do two trips through Stay Focused, one in summer of ’22 and then again this summer in July of ’23.
David Hirsch: Were both those trips to Grand Cayman?
Nate Boltz: They were. That’s a whole different story when as a parent your child’s [00:27:00] first solo trip is not only a long distance one like that but involves going through customs and immigration.
David Hirsch: Are you suggesting that she went on her own and she didn’t go with mom and dad and her sister?
Nate Boltz: Leah and I are both very involved parents and we like to be involved in all the activities that Anna does, but that was one that mom and dad were not invited to go along with, and I think that’s also one of the reasons why it was so impactful for her upbringing and independence and personal growth. I’m jealous of the trip that she got to go on, and I would have loved to have experienced with her but I deeply value what they’re accomplishing by having these kids go on these trips solo.
David Hirsch: Yeah, it is pretty amazing that you sent your then 15-year old daughter a summer ago off with some strangers, out of the country, and had the trust and confidence in not only your [00:28:00] daughter but these individuals: Roger Mueller, Ryan Chalmers, Greg Chalmers, Ryan’s dad. And I can remember learning about Stay Focused a number of years ago, and it was like, oh my gosh, this is the greatest thing in the world.
And that was just like, on top of the fact that there’s another dad in the network who started something called DiveHeart.org. It’s been around for about 20 years. 2X, 3X, the number of years that Stay Focused has been around. And it’s a little bit different program, but they’re taking people with a full range of disabilities, not just youth, including youth, but adults and veterans, people that are paraplegics, quadriplegics, people that are blind or deaf. There were a couple of individuals that seemed a little bit extreme, at least from my perspective. One was a quadra amputee going scuba diving. And the other was a person on a ventilator. And I’m thinking, if that doesn’t shatter [00:29:00] all the paradigms that you have in your mind about who can scuba dive and who can’t scuba dive, I don’t know what will.
So I just love learning about an instance like yours and Anna’s and the experience that she had with Stay Focused. And if it’s meant to be, maybe you all get PADI certified and you have a chance to go scuba diving as a family as well.
Nate Boltz: Absolutely, that’s definitely in the plans for me. And Roger and the whole team there at Stay Focused, it doesn’t take long for you to get very comfortable and realize that they have all this in control and that your child is in great hands with them.
David Hirsch: There was one other organization that I remember you talking about that you didn’t mention just recently and it’s called Parks for All and I’m wondering if you can shine a light on that.
Nate Boltz: Absolutely. Parks for All is a grassroots organization here in Anchorage, Alaska, that my wife and two other [00:30:00] moms founded. And it was based out of an unmet need in the community. And that was we had these wonderful kids that didn’t have access to an inclusive or even accessible playground to play. And play is the basis of all childhood learning, especially early childhood learning. And if you don’t have the facilities to do that, how can you have a well-rounded childhood?
Leah and these two other moms got the ball rolling, got organized, got tied in with the Anchorage Park Foundation. And very long story short, they secured the funding and the support to build not only Anchorage’s first inclusive playground, but the first inclusive playground in the state of Alaska. And since then, it’s been just a snowballing process of starting an inclusive play movement throughout the [00:31:00] state of Alaska. Now where any playground project, no matter where it happens in the state of Alaska, is looked at through the lens of inclusivity. It’s completely shifted the way that the parks and rec organizations throughout the state of Alaska look at playground design. I am incredibly proud of Leah and Anna for spearheading, but also just grateful that we live in a state that so readily adopts changes in plans and design.
David Hirsch: Yeah thanks for sharing. Very impactful, very inspiring story. And I think the most relevant thing you said was that Parks for All was created to meet an unmet need and it revolutionized the way that playgrounds are being viewed or built, not just there locally in Anchorage, but throughout the state and perhaps beyond. What a role model, what a great role model that has been.[00:32:00]
So let’s spend a few minutes talking about Challenge Alaska. My recollection was that you started as a board member, were a board member for a half dozen years, before becoming Executive Director. What was it that inspired you to get involved as a dad on the board? And then what was it that motivated you to hang up your corporate shingle, if you will, and go into the not for profit world?
Nate Boltz: If you don’t mind, I’ll back up even further. When Anna was two years old, we were looking for a way that we could ski together as a family. Both Leah and I, growing up, were alpine skiers, and when our daughter was born, we didn’t want to let her diagnosis be a roadblock in our ability to go out and play together as a family. So we reached out to an organization called Challenge Alaska about how we might be able to adapt some equipment to go out and [00:33:00] just enjoy the backcountry with our young daughter. And they said why don’t you just bring her down to the hill and put her in a lesson? I said she’s only two. They said, that’s absolutely fine. I remember we went down one Saturday in April, my wife, my daughter Anna and I, and went out skiing with Jeremy Anderson, who was the ski school director for Challenge Alaska at the time. And we skied together as a family that entire day until Anna finally fell asleep on the chairlift.
From that moment, we were hooked. That was our first vision into adaptive sports and therapeutic outdoor recreation. From there, wanting to continue on as a family skiing together, Leah and I decided to go through the training to become volunteer adaptive ski instructors with Challenge Alaska. From there at a personal level, I fell in love with the adaptive ski instruction and got to where [00:34:00] I wanted to not only help my daughter Anna, but the other individuals that Challenge Alaska was providing services to. And so I got more involved as an adaptive ski instructor. From there, I asked to join Challenge Alaska’s board of directors and spent about six years as a board member until my predecessor announced her intention to retire.
And at that point, I stepped down from the board of directors so that I could apply for the job, and was fortunate to have been selected to succeed her and in September of 2019 stepped into my current role as Executive Director for Challenge Alaska and finally found that professional passion in life that I’d been searching for all those years.
David Hirsch: Yeah thanks for sharing the story and the very beginning of it, which was not something you would have anticipated, right? You were just looking for a little direction [00:35:00] and all of a sudden you found something that was much more consequential in Anna’s life, in your own lives, and it’s really morphed into something that is I think it’s appropriate to say it’s your calling, right? And I’m wondering if you could describe a little bit more in detail what the Adaptive Athletics as well as Therapeutic Recreation programs are all about.
Nate Boltz: Oh, absolutely. Challenge Alaska provides adaptive sports and therapeutic recreation opportunities for all Alaskans living with disability. And when I say adaptive sports, some of the sports that come to mind are things like wheelchair basketball, adaptive alpine skiing, paranordic skiing, things like that. But really it goes beyond that. What I always like to say is if you’re an Alaskan living with disability and you want to figure out a way of doing a sport or recreation activity that you don’t think is necessarily possible for you, [00:36:00] that’s where we step in. We find that way. We find the equipment that’ll allow it to happen or we find adaptations and teaching methods and things like that to make sure that we’re breaking down the barriers to learning something. And so that’s what adaptive sports are. It’s different teaching techniques. It’s different equipment needed in order to either level the playing field or just make a playing field accessible.
David Hirsch: So when you say all Alaskans, what age range are we talking about?
Nate Boltz: Challenge Alaska has clients that we provide services to all the way from age 2 like Anna was, all the way up into their 80s. We provide services to all ages and all disability types.
David Hirsch: Quite impressive. Anything else we should know about Challenge Alaska?
Nate Boltz: We’ve been in existence since 1980 and I’m very grateful to [00:37:00] everybody that came before me in this role and created an absolutely amazing organization that provides so many services to so many people.
David Hirsch: Thanks for sharing. So I’m thinking about advice now, and I’m wondering what advice can you share with parents, specifically dads, who find themselves with a young child or maybe an older child for that matter?
Nate Boltz: The biggest advice that I can give to anybody, especially if they find themselves in a situation similar to the one that Leah and I found ourselves in, that’s surround yourself with positive people. Knowledge is powerful, but also remember that even if all the information that you’re getting is doom and gloom like we were early on when we received Anna’s diagnosis, look for alternatives. Surround yourself with positive people, and [00:38:00] never ever settle for anything but the best for your child because ultimately you know what’s best for your child and you can set things up for them to achieve anything that they want to achieve and are willing to put the effort into going after.
David Hirsch: Yeah, pearls of wisdom. Surround yourself with individuals that are positive. Never settle for any less than the best, and never say never as far as what somebody’s capable of. Really important insights.
Nate Boltz: Absolutely.
David Hirsch: So I’m curious to know why have you agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Nate Boltz: Because I’ve been on the side of the fence where you don’t know what the best path forward is for your child. And it’s a helpless, hopeless feeling that I’d never want another father to have to achieve. So if I can help one person realize that there are other people that have [00:39:00] gone through this, and if I can give some hope to even one person, my time is worth it. And if I can improve the outcome of even one kid growing up, everything, all the work has been worth it.
David Hirsch: Yeah we’re thrilled to have you. Thank you for being involved. Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Nate Boltz: With regards to therapeutic recreation and adaptive sports, we live in an exciting time right now where there are opportunities regardless of where you live in the country. If you can have these services in a state like Alaska, you can find these services close to where you live. So please reach out to organizations similar to the ones we’ve talked about today. Challenge Alaska. Stay Focused. Move United is a network of adaptive sports and therapeutic rec organizations throughout the United States. Please look them up and get involved with [00:40:00] how you can. Even if you don’t live with a child with special needs, there are amazing volunteer opportunities that go along with all these organizations spread out throughout the country. And the volunteers for these organizations get every bit as much out of their experience as the clients that they’re providing services to.
David Hirsch: Yeah, great words of advice. Thank you. So let’s give a special shout out to Dan Redfield of Wake One and Adventure for Ava for helping connect us.
Nate Boltz: Thank you so much, Dan.
David Hirsch: If somebody wants to learn about Challenge Alaska or contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Nate Boltz: Either look us up on social media, or go out to challengealaska.org, all spelled out. Other words, feel free to call us at area code 907-344-7399. And we’d be glad to see how we can help you, or [00:41:00] someone you love.
David Hirsch: Yeah, we’ll be sure to include all that information in the show notes. Nate, thank you for your time and many insights. As a reminder, Nate is just one of the dads who’s part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. As you probably know, the 21st Century Dads Foundation is a 501c3 not for profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free to all concerned. Would you please consider making a tax-deductible contribution? I would really appreciate your support. Nate, thanks again.
Nate Boltz: Thank you so much, David.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers [00:42:00] raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children match up with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support other dads. To find out more, go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to Facebook.com, groups, and search “dad to dad.” Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story or know of a compelling story, please send an email to David@ 21stCenturyDads.org.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast was produced by me, Tom Couch.
Thanks again to Horizon Therapeutics, who believe that science and compassion must work together to transform lives. That’s why they work tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. [00:43:00] Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics at HorizonTherapeutics.com