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Trading Campus for Cabins


This isn’t the typical look of rehabilitation.

Here, at Woodbine, Iowa’s Willow Lake, there are no hospital beds or physical therapy mats. Cutting-edge equipment and a campus of specialized resources have been traded in for fishing rods, tackle boxes, and a dock cantilevered out over sun-bathed water.

Two dozen men and women, all of them current or former participants of QLI’s rehabilitation and care services, cast their lines out. The fish are biting like crazy, someone says, mere seconds before Stacey, a QLI alumnus, wrestles a stubborn bluegill from the lake.

This camping trip has become an annual tradition for QLI, something its spinal cord injury rehabilitation team and mentor network have designed and refined for years now. The trip began as a way to get injury survivors away from the emotional monotony of medical facilities, but it has transformed into an unparalleled opportunity to connect men and women following the path of recovery with those who have blazed the trail.

Reaffirmation comes in many forms here: from the triumph of bagging the day’s big catch to the subtle and powerful conversations that take place around the night’s campfire, where current rehab participants open up about personal challenges and alumni share their experiences facing similar tests. Even sleeping overnight in the handful of cabins overlooking the lake, managing needs in a realistic environment far removed from a medical installation, provides the campers some sense of confidence. It’s the difference between learning skills in a rehabilitation center vacuum and applying those same skills in a real, memorable, empowering way.

This isn’t the typical look of rehabilitation. This is the look of independence.

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