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NORMAL — When Illinois State University President Larry Dietz said faculty, students and staff were “rising to new heights” this week, he was speaking literally.

A new ropes challenge course is part of the Redbird Adventure Center, which officially opened Wednesday and will have an open house from 3 to 7 p.m. Sept. 26. The course includes 27 elements ranging in height from 17 to 28 feet.

And the center is not just for those with campus connections.

The general public can rent camping gear, kayaks, canoes and other outdoor equipment. Outside groups also will be able to schedule team-building programs that use the ropes course.

The new facility at 1700 W. Gregory St. replaced the old Outdoor Adventure Center that had been on North Main Street.

The various elements have names such as Vertical Playpen, Lilypads, Centipede, Matrix and the Big Swing.

Junior Emily Yacko, a physical education major from Grand Ridge, admitted to being a little nervous before she pushed off the high platform for the Big Swing, “but I knew I was safe, so I wasn't scared.”

Participants wear harnesses and helmets and are attached to safety cables or belayed on ropes.

Janae Klimczak, a senior in recreation management from Chicago who tried out several of the elements, said the leaders “explain it real well and keep reassuring you.”

“That's the whole point of the teamwork, learning to trust others and … face a lot of fears,” she said.

The university is particularly proud of the fact that 80 percent of the course is adaptable for people with physical limitations.

Dawn Sanner, executive director of campus recreation and the Student Fitness Center, said the challenge course “sets the standard for inclusion.”

“Our vision was to create a course where individuals of all abilities could thrive,” said Sanner.

Rachel Iversen, assistant director of the adventure program, who played an integral role in designing the challenge course, said, “I got to build my dream.”

Three places on the course have chairs and harnesses with a pulley system that creates a 4-to-1 mechanical advantage so a person with mobility issues can pull themselves up on their own or with the help of teammates.

Other modifications include a lower angle climbing wall and a cargo net with short sections followed by flat sections. Adaptive equipment is available to provide additional support for torso and head, if needed.

“Whatever they need is going to be unique to each individual,” said Iversen.

Student Body President Michael Rubio said the center is a place for students to “enhance their wellness, to be challenged and have fun.”

He said it will help teach leadership skills such as teamwork, collaboration, communication and problem-solving.

Outside groups interested in scheduling a team building experience at the center should contact Bob Riddle, team-building coordinator, at or by calling 309-438-0753.

Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota


Education Reporter

Education Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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