Northern Wilds Magazine
Along the Shore

Northland institute breaks down barriers

Kayaking is one of the activities offered through the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute. | Submitted

DuluthThere’s a group in Duluth that’s empowering people with medical conditions, injuries and disabilities to lead active, healthy lifestyles and get back out in the community. It’s called Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute.

“We provide safe, fun learning opportunities for people and hopefully, in the long run, create lifelong recreators,” said Tara Gorman, a sports and recreation program coordinator at the Institute.

The organization is owned by Allina Health and headquartered in the Twin Cities, but there’s a small team in Duluth that serves people with short- and long-term medical barriers, challenges and disabilities.

“There’s amazing technology now that allows you to get back out there and do what you want to do…and people that are willing, and wanting, to help you get back out there,” said Gorman.

The Institute’s local staff works hard coordinating sports and recreation programs that help people become active and connected with the community.

The Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute has been in the Northland about 23 years and currently has about 350 program participants each year, which is a large number considering that each activity has about eight to 25 participants on average.

The programs include an adaptive kayak day-trip adventure, which is a full day of guided paddling and exploring along the shores of Lake Superior; the CKRI Northland Fishing Tournament, which is designed for adults with physical disabilities and/or visual impairments; and the Arrowhead Youth Games, which is an activity extravaganza where Courage Kenny participants join regional schools and the University of Minnesota-Duluth for a day of adapted sport and recreational activities including dance, parachute games, archery, wheelchair races and more.

There’s also Shoot for Fun, in which Courage Kenny participants join a group of about 450 avid hunting and sporting clay enthusiasts and spend the day at the Old Vermillion Trail Hunting Preserve—one of the many available activities and programs in the Northland.

“Basically, our vision is to create recreation opportunities where we are all living and working and playing and focusing on abilities, not disabilities,” said Gorman. She said a number of participants have recreated with Courage Kenny for years. “We have some kids that were introduced to us in first or second grade, and they are now in their thirties skiing with us, or on our power soccer team.”

Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute has rehabilitation facilities in the Twin Cities, but there are no facilities in Duluth, so the group primarily partners with community organizations and hosts its activities off-site. For example, the Institute works with the Duluth Area Family YMCA for adaptive yoga and swimming classes, and it partners with local ski resorts like Spirit Mountain, Giants Ridge and Lutsen Mountains for alpine adaptive skiing; the list goes on.

If program participants can’t afford the programs outright, there’s a foundation within the Institute that can help.

Visit, to learn more, or call (218) 726-4834.

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