Northern California SCI Community Episode 4

PNP blogger, Nick Struthers, writes about discovering and meeting SCI-related support groups throughout Northern California.

I spent an enjoyable afternoon hanging out with Foster Andersen in Santa Cruz and not only did I learn a lot more about Shared Adventures, I also got to find out first hand about Foster’s incredible journey.
Shared Adventures Founder, Foster Andersen

After living 20 years in the South Bay, I finally took a trip to Berkeley where I spoke with Julie Yates, Administrative Director of BORP.


That same evening, I was the speaker at the Berkeley Meeting of the San Francisco Spinal Network which was also in The Ed Roberts Campus.  I got the chance to hang out with some old friends and meet some new ones.

Ed Roberts
Headquarters of BORP inside the Ed Roberts Campus

I had arranged to meet Foster at one of his favorite cafes in Santa Cruz. I’d been there on two occasions after mountain biking in the Wilder Ranch Area, so no need for Google maps on this trip. I’d met Foster for the first time the previous week as he was presenting at the SCI Connections meeting in San Jose and I was looking forward to spending more time with him.

Foster was already there enjoying the sunshine on the cafe terrace when I arrived. I got myself a coffee and filled up Foster’s water cup before I sat down with him. Foster has that unique personality that makes you feel like you have known him for a long time and although he has that laid back attitude that fits in perfectly in Santa Cruz, he is very engaging. I listened intently as Foster told me how he came to the West Coast and ended up in Santa Cruz where he founded Shared Adventures. This has been one of his passions for the last 23 years enabling individuals with disabilities to get out and enjoy the environment we all share, participating in all kinds of activities ranging from surfing to sky diving. Yes, there are no limits with Shared Adventures.

I could easily fill several pages with Foster’s journey and Shared Adventures but recommend you visit the web site and also check out the video here on PNP where I interviewed him.  We must have chatted for at least an hour when I asked Foster if he wouldn’t mind being interviewed for PNP. He was happy to accommodate my request but he needed to meet a vendor who was going to demo a wheelchair designed to be used in the water in 30 minutes.  As I had no further plans that day, I agreed to join him with his appointment and would then interview him afterwards in his apartment. When I returned from the restroom, Foster was chatting with two young women who had volunteered at previous Shared Adventure events. As he introduced me to them, it became clear to me that Foster is somewhat of a celebrity in this city.

Foster Chair
Foster next to the beach wheelchair that can also float in the water

In order to get down to Cowell Beach, where Foster was meeting Bruce Glen of mobimat, he had to return to his apartment to pick up his van. I drove the quarter of a mile to his address while Foster powered his way there in his chair. Foster then gave me a lift right to the parking lot adjacent to Cowell Beach where we met Bruce. Having just driven from Arizona the previous evening, Bruce had enjoyed a bike ride around the Monterey Peninsula (very different from the Arizona Desert) before joining us in Santa Cruz. Shared Adventures is having their annual “Day on The Beach” event on July 16th and Foster was interested in viewing the mobimat products which may be suitable for the event. I myself have very little or, should I more accurately say no, experience of the products, so it will not come as a surprise to many of our readers that I did have some sticker shock. I have to admit, the specially designed wheelchair looked really cool and Bruce was gracious enough to give Foster the opportunity to use the mats and chair free of charge at the event.

Video of news story about the Mobichair

Incidentally, July 17th will mark the 38th anniversary of when Foster embarked on what he calls his second life after a motorcycle accident in Upstate New York.

Foster Mat
Bruce from Mobichair demonstrating the mat that would make pushing a wheelchair in the sand easier

After saying goodbye to Bruce, Foster drove us along West Cliff Drive giving us both a chance to take in the gorgeous Pacific Ocean air and scenery. It was only a few minutes until we arrived back at Foster’s apartment and I set up for the interview. Foster’s apartment, which also doubles up as the Shared Adventures Office, was full of wonderful memorabilia of all Foster’s work and play including a prominent photo of Foster with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. Thank you so much Foster for an insight into the great work that you do as you truly are a lover of life. Not only are you lucky to have a great life in Santa Cruz but also Santa Cruz and its people are lucky to have you. My condolences to Upstate New York.

Instead of directing me straight up Hwy 880, Google Maps was directing me up 680 and cutting across 580 to Oakland before taking 13 straight into the heart of Berkeley. Although I have heard of Castro Valley, I’d never actually driven there and was pleasantly surprised how beautiful the hills were as they were still hanging on to some spring green colors. We arrived into the heart of Berkeley for the very first time and found some street parking where my disabled placard came in useful to avoid feeding the parking meter. After a quick coffee, I left my wife, Julie, to enjoy the shops on College Avenue and I headed down to meet Julie Yates at BORP.

If you have ever been to the Ed Roberts Campus, you will know what an impressive facility it is. The BORP administrative Office is located on the 2nd floor and I made my way up the impressive spiral ramp which is not only practical, it is an impressive architectural feature. I would later learn that wheelchair users relish the opportunity to descend the ramp as if they are at a fun fair. I would also learn that I had to be cautious on the ramp just in case I met someone enjoying the descent too much. After ringing the bell, Julie invited me in and we sat at one of the tables in the main entrance space. I noticed a few handcycles and even more spare parts behind the piles of literature as we both introduced ourselves. Julie listened patiently as I told her about my own endeavor to find out first hand as much about the SCI community in the Bay Area, and that it would not be complete without a visit to BORP.

Julie Y.
Julie Yates, Administrative Director at BORP

Julie, who is now the Administrative Director, has been involved with BORP for over 10 years and is part of the organization’s evolution.  If you are not familiar with BORP, just go to their website to find out everything you need to know as I wouldn’t to say anymore. After taking a couple of snaps of the office, Julie then showed me the well-equipped fitness room on the lower level of the campus.

BORP Fitness Room Entrance 

Fitness Room at BORP

Before thanking her for taking the time to meet with me, she suggested it would be a good idea to come back and meet Rick Smith, the Executive Director who is on an extended vacation. I now plan to go back to Berkeley later in the summer to speak with Rick, so look out for the video interview on PNP.


I planned to meet my wife Julie at 5pm at Caffe Strada right on the edge of the UC Berkeley campus. It was a beautiful warm evening as we sat out on the terrace with views of the famous clock tower. The place seemed familiar, just like our first trip to San Francisco as we have seen it many times in movies albeit 5,000 miles away.

Spiral Ramp
Unusual Spiral Ramp providing wheelchair access to the second floor

We arrived back at the Ed Roberts campus in plenty of time for the 6 pm start of the Berkeley Meeting of the San Francisco Spinal Network. Tom Shankle was already there in the hall putting up signs to inform the arrivals of the change in rooms. We were now going to be in the conference room on the 2nd floor and started to set up. Walter Denson was already there with his wife, Michelle, and he helped me get my macbook set up to work with the projector. I introduced myself to Emily who powered in on her chair and was pleased to notice Tom was placing beers on the table from a cooler he had lugged into the room. I helped myself to a slice of pizza and a Heineken while waiting on the rest of the group to arrive.

Pictured are (left to right) Felix, Julie and Hassan

Looking out of the window, I noticed Hassan who had just arrived in the entrance hall in his power chair. I first met Hassan at SCVMC rehab back in July of 2015 year when he was moving his power chair around with an attachment under his chin. Although we had exchanged several emails, this was the first time I’d seen Hassan since then and I rushed down the stairs to meet him. He greeted me with his characteristically large smile and his eyes lit up with that strong spirit he possesses. We enthusiastically chatted as we made our way up the ramp to the conference room. Hassan was saying hello to some of the fellow peers as I retrieved a glass of wine and a slice of pizza for him. I put it down in front of him and asked if he needed any help. None was required. I was delighted to see that he had no problem eating the pizza and drinking the wine without any assistance from either me or specialized equipment. Not only has Hassan continued to experience significant return of function but his strong spirit must be even stronger now as he continues to make progress in his recovery. Tom got the meeting kicked off and opened the floor for Tara (I did not get a chance to take her picture) to speak about a renewed initiative to ensure BART did not renege on their commitment to provide clean and hygienic elevator access to all stations. She also informed everyone of a website which can send customized emails to you when elevators are not working at specified BART stations. I then had the opportunity to speak about PNP as well as my experience of SCI Rehab in Scotland. I had to field some questions from Roar who is originally from Norway and we agreed that with all the oil money, Norway offers even better facilities for the disabled than Scotland. Where we disagreed is that I know the Scots defeated the Viking Invaders around 1260 and left them seeking softer targets further south in England.ENTWandRFrom L to R: Emily, Nick, Tom, Walter and Roar

I consumed what I thought was another well-earned beer while we chatted with the peers. It was good to see Pete again whom I had met previously at San Francisco and also I got the chance to speak briefly to Felix and Esther.

Nick and Esther

I think Julie was disappointed that Nils, whom she met in San Francisco, was not able to attend as she missed his charm and razor sharp wit although a part of me was relieved as I would not be subject to his lawyer-like cross examination of my presentation material. I also found out that Emily is originally from the East Coast and had done her rehab at the world renowned Shepherd Center in Atlanta. After saying our goodbyes, we walked down the ramp to the main entrance. I chatted with Hassan’s brother in the entrance hall when I then noticed Walter flying down the ramp in my direction with a brochure I had left behind. Thanks again to Tom and Walter for the invitation and hospitality. I’ll certainly be back to join them in the future. I’ll also be more cautious on the ramp just in case Walter is coming down it.

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