Kyle Packer grew up dealing with the stares of others. If you deal with cerebral palsy yourself – or if you have a child, friend, or family member who deals with cerebral palsy – you know exactly what these stares are all about. Especially among children, anything deemed “different” is simultaneously deemed a reason to make fun of someone. If a young child is wearing the wrong clothes, or if a child is overweight, or if a child’s parent drives a beat up car, these can all be targets for other children to make fun of them. But throw in something such as a disability that confines a young child to a wheelchair, and the “making fun” can go to a whole new level. In fact, the attention of other children can move away from those who are just plain “different,” and can get entirely focused on the child who is “most different of all.”
This is what Kyle’s childhood was like. As a young kid with cerebral palsy, who had to be in a wheelchair, he was always the “most different of all” at each school he attended. He hated this so much that, in elementary school and middle school, he found himself using his wheelchair as a sort of makeshift backpack – stacking his books in the wheelchair and struggling along behind it as he pulled himself to class on his feet, pushing his books in front of him. By the time high school came around, however – with longer hallways and less time between class – the option of pushing around his books in his wheelchair no longer existed for Kyle. Instead, his freshman year, he had to have his sister Deena (a senior at the time) push him around from class to class. Sometimes, this meant sitting outside a class until she could get there to push him – dealing with the prolonged stares of all the other students in the hallway.
His sophomore and junior years, friends helped push him from classroom to classroom, and by his senior year in high school, his brother Duane was in school as a freshman and took over this responsibility.
Not only did it bother Kyle to be so different from others – to constantly deal with others staring at him and whispering about him – but it also frustrated him to feel so thoroughly dependent on others, to feel so helpless compared to others around him. By the time Kyle reached college at Idaho State University, he no longer had any real drive to chase success in any areas. Things seemed too bleak to him; he was flunking his classes, and he figured he would simply eventually flunk out and move back in with his parents. But then, Kyle met Tom Whittaker – founder of CW HOG, a foundation intended to help people who struggle physically to find strength in themselves. In fact, it would be more accurate – rather than saying that Kyle met Tom – to say that Tom met Kyle. And Tom saw something in Kyle that caused him to start looking for ways to help this young man on the verge of giving up.
Tom Whittaker, after all, knows a thing or two about “not giving up,” in spite of long odds. He lost his right foot in an automobile accident over 30 years ago, and yet, he went on to become the first person with disabilities to climb to the top of Mount Everest.
When they met, Tom (after quite a bit of work) convinced Kyle to sign up for a whitewater rafting trip – and the rest was history.
Since then, Kyle has become one of the most well-known outdoor enthusiasts among those with disabilities, and his exploits – which include rafting trips down the main Salmon River and the Middle Fork of the Salmon, down the Snake River, and even down the Colorado River, and include ski trip all over the west and a large number of rock climbing expeditions – were even the subject of a 2004 documentary entitled ‘An Uphill Climb,’ which won six Mid-American Emmy awards.
And now, Kyle has found a way to give back himself: he has written a children’s book entitled “Stare if you Dare.”
The book, which will be published by Tate Publishing, has been written in order to encourage children to recognize that all of them are different from one another, and that none of them should be singled out in a negative manner for these differences.
Many years ago, Tom Whittaker was able to help Kyle see his potential, in spite of the fact that others had only seen his differences all his life. Now, Kyle is trying to help young people celebrate differences instead of seeing them as something negative, in order to aid others like himself in reaching their full potential.