BILLINGS — Before last week, 16-year-old Billings teen Alli Duncan had never been white water rafting or fly fishing, hobbies that are difficult to do when in a wheelchair. But one organization gave her the Montana adventure of a lifetime, a full week of firsts for her and her family.
Duncan’s life has always been a little bit tougher than most, but it hasn’t stopped her from doing the things she loves.
“I like, well, going fishing, and I like to do art,” Duncan said recently.
She also helps others with disabilities through Eagle Mount.
“I’m actually volunteering there on Thursday,” Duncan said.
Impressive, considering the Billings teenager was born with spina bifida, a spinal cord defect. She’s had 23 surgeries, with another one scheduled in August.
So this summer one woman wanted to do something for Duncan and nominated her for the Big Hearts Under the Big Sky program.
“It’s all about putting the family together in an outdoor experience, an outdoor shared adventure, where they build memories, kind of reconnect as a family,” said Mac Minard, the executive director of the Montana Outfitters and Guiding Association.
A program of MOGA, Big Hearts Under the Big Sky has served about 1,000 families over the past 15 years. They help families with medically challenged members and military families. The Duncans were the first in 2023.
“I think it’s really cool that they do this for people like me,” said Duncan.
Big Hearts, which partners with several guiding and adventure companies, took the Duncans on a West Yellowstone helicopter tour, white water rafting, and fly fishing.
“I think I was most excited for the helicopter trip, but then I started liking white water rafting more,” Duncan said.
“And the helicopter ride, Alli will never get to see those tops of the mountains. Couldn’t hike up there, she saw mountain goats and that was amazing,” said Duncan’s mom, Amber.
And Duncan got to experience the trip with the people she’s closest with.
“For every one of an Alli, there’s a sibling also like Addy, and mom, and dad. And all of these people share in the challenges that the family is facing so we designed these trips around satisfying everybody’s interesst,” Minard said.
But Duncan was the star and hopes she and others like her will keep being able to push the boundaries.
"I get to show other people what it’s like, get to be the first one, and know that there’s other people out there that can do it,” said Duncan.