November 28, 2022

Ilpuntontc

Just Do Travel

Grant helps Women’s Adventure ACT boost ‘hike-ablity’

“We want to keep the outdoors accessible, safe, and affordable to women of all ages, experiences, and abilities,” says head of Women’s Adventure ACT, and 2022 ACT Woman of the Year, Kelli Jackson.

Last month, Women’s Adventure ACT was awarded the Mable Community Grant of over $19,000 for its ‘Hike-able’ project, which aims to help senior and differently abled women get outdoors and active.

“We will be able to purchase equipment, train our leaders, and provide safety gear that will help support a diverse range of women to participate in our hikes,” Ms Jackson said.

The volunteer community group has over 4,000 followers on Facebook and runs at least one organised hike every weekend, open for Canberran women to join.

Among them, Taryn Dickens, a vision-impaired athlete who recently won gold in Australian Masters Track Cycling and has “found her people” in Women’s Adventure ACT.

“I was a road cyclist,” said Taryn. “Just before Covid, I actually qualified for the world championships on the Gran Fondo World Tour.

“When I began losing my vision, I lost confidence on the road. I started track cycling, where there’s no cars. Through Covid, we did lots of training and went to nationals. After I came off in the individual pursuit and got fourth, we got the gold in the team pursuit.”

Tarryn turns 40 next month. “I’ve only known about my vision for four years; definitely found out later in life.

“[I’ve always been] very active, I’m lucky in that sense now that I’m having troubles with vision and mental health. I need that in my life.

“For a little while, I felt like my world was ending. I had no idea what I was going to do. I’m a fitter and turner by trade, and an electronics technician. I’ve always worked a lot with my hands.”

Taryn moved to Canberra in a shift towards office work, and to escape the overwhelming Sydney traffic.

“I got myself here and it’s been fantastic ever since. I don’t know why people don’t like it, but I think we should keep it a secret.”

Taryn has cone dystrophy. She’s been able to adapt to her complete loss of colour vision, with the help of her guide dog, Gigi.

“For me, the most challenging part was learning to be okay with asking for help when I need it. Despite being a serial relationship person, I hate not being independent,” she smiled.

“I’m lucky in a sense that I didn’t know anyone in Canberra. When I moved here, I got to restart my story. I get to be who I want to be, do what I want to do, and no one knows me. No one knew me before I started losing my vision.

“Being able to redesign yourself and fully start again has been a blessing in disguise.”

Taryn currently still qualifies as an abled-body athlete on the track. However, following her gold, she was recruited by Veterans and Emergency Services Para-Biathlon Australia (VESPA) for the 2026 Paralympics.

“I feel like it’s actually my time,” said Taryn. “Which is really awesome. I probably wouldn’t have gotten these opportunities if I wasn’t losing my vision but also, I don’t think that this would have happened if I couldn’t handle it, as bittersweet as that might be.”

Taryn asserts that the bush capital was exactly what she needed, getting out of the shadows post-diagnosis.

“I hid away for quite a while. I didn’t know where I’d fit, how I’d function. They told me I could be blind in four years, or 40 years. I didn’t want to make new friends, because I thought they wouldn’t want someone around that’s going to need help all the time.”

She first came in contact with Women’s Adventure ACT on Facebook.

“On my first night, I did what everyone does, just sat in the background and lurked for a little while. I wasn’t sure if I should tell people straight away about my disability or try to keep it quiet.

“I’ve never met any blind people, no one in my family’s got a disability. I didn’t know how to approach anything… but the girls were just fantastic, and God, have I gone on some adventures since then.”

Taryn and Gigi go everywhere together, including on adventures in and around the ACT. Photo: Kerrie Brewer.

Taryn’s repertoire of adventures with Women’s Adventure ACT includes a seven-day kayaking expedition in Hinchinbrook, the Simpson Desert Ultra, which she’ll take her second run at in June, canyoning, and camping trips.

Gigi comes on every trip and will likely follow Taryn right through to the Paralympics.

“I can’t wait to take her to the snow. I’ll put a little something on her feet because they’re so precious.

“She helps me with stairs, and she’s getting really used to showing me the better path when we’re bushwalking.”

Gigi also helps Taryn with anxiety. “She sticks right by me. If I have a night terror when we’re camping, I have a touch light and she’ll turn that on.”

The two share a double swag out in the bush since it’s gotten “a little too cosy” in the single.

“I feel a lot safer in the outdoors with her.”

Taryn and Gigi found their tribe in Women’s Adventure ACT, and eagerly await any newcomers attracted by Hike-able. 

“Find your people,” she advises. “Then you can do anything.”

Get all the latest Canberra news, sport, entertainment, lifestyle, competitions and more delivered straight to your inbox with the Canberra Weekly Daily Newsletter. Sign up here.