“He always finds a way,” mom, Krissy Fallentine said of her son. “He doesn’t look at what he can’t do. He looks at what he can, he manages to find a way.”
Born with a hole in his back and a diagnosis of Spina Bifida, many would assume that Chad Fallentine might imagine the list of what he ‘can’ do to be short at best. Fortunately for the young Fallentine, the memo of what limitations he should face and endure with such a diagnosis, missed his in basket entirely.
“It’s like when he first wanted to play little league,” dad, Chris Fallentine stated. “I said son, I don’t know how you’ll get around the bases.”
“And he said, ‘I’ll just have to hit a home run’,” Mrs. Fallentine added.
Dictionary.reference.com defines the word “limitation” as: “a limiting condition; restrictive weakness, lack of capacity; inability or handicap.”
With a climb up Half Dome in 2006, another up Mount Whitney in 2008 and his most recent adventure to the San Francisco Bay from Knights Ferry via kayak, Chad Fallentine does not pay much mind to obstacles or limitations.
“The main thing is the adventure and being outdoors,” Chad said of his impressive adventure résumé.
According to his parents, his love for the outdoors was sparked early on by his involvement with the Boy Scouts of America.
“He loves the outdoors,” Mrs. Fallentine said. “He’s an Eagle Scout. And his troop has always been really supportive of everything he has done.”
Chad’s story, however, is about more than a boy with a disability; it is also one of a young man who benefits from the devotion and friendship of a man who was once just a stranger.
While the Fallentine family was acquainted with Steve Cooper and his family through church, little did they know, this quiet unassuming man would literally take their son to new heights.
“I still remember watching him cross the gym floor (at church) with his crutches,” Cooper recalled. “A voice in my head said ‘he can do it’.”
What he ‘could do’ was hike Half Dome in Yosemite. The hike, which served as a fundraiser and a platform to raise awareness for those affected by Spina Bifida was the beginning of a friendship. A friendship, not defined by age or convenience, but rather two adventure seekers looking out to do new things.
The duo’s most recent adventure was sparked after Cooper shared with his family that he would like to view his first live San Francisco Giants game from a kayak in McCovey Cove. According to Cooper, it was suggested by a family member — in jest— that he just kayak there.
“Then I asked Chad if he wanted to go for a boat ride,” Cooper said.
“Chad loves to kayak,” Mrs. Fallentine said.
“Where we live lends itself well to kayaking whenever we feel like it,” Mr. Fallentine added.
The ‘boat ride’ Cooper was suggesting would originate in Knights Ferry and conclude in the San Francisco Bay.
“There was an abbreviated route or the other option was to just do the whole thing,” Chad said of Cooper’s proposal.
“He agreed to the whole thing right away,” Cooper said of Chad. “We seem to do something different once a year. I’m always looking for a big event to challenge us.
“We just decided to do it and sort of planned it as we went,” Cooper said of the adventurous journey. “We usually did 20 mile legs, Saturday was our usual day.”
The two adventure seekers shared that each Saturday, for eight weeks, they would load up their gear and hit the open sea. Where they stopped one week, would be where they began on the following.
“It was roughly 180 miles,” Cooper stated of the bridge-to-bridge journey. “By water there is a lot of crossing back and forth.”
With little open sea boating expertise to offer, Cooper turned to local fisherman Bob Bellin for guidance in studying and understanding the tides and local businessman Jim Foust of Sunshine Rafting for help with the gear.
“Friends helped us with the planning,” Cooper shared. “They said late fall is the time to be on the bay. There’s calmer water and less wind.”
Cooper also aided Chad with an upper body workout to help him build the upper body strength and endurance that such a trip would require.
“Another thing Chad had is the mental strength,” Cooper said of his fellow kayaker.
“During the week, I was just excited to get on the water,” the 18-year-old said of the excursion. “Once we were out there, we would take breaks every once in a while.”
Blisters, muscle cramps, or backaches were never apparent during Chad’s eight-week journey, not because they did not exist, but rather because he did not share them.
“He never complained,” Cooper said of Chad.
“It has to be really bad for him to complain about pain,” Mrs. Fallentine added.
“I worried a lot,” she admitted. “As they got further away, they would have to leave earlier and some days they would leave in the dark and return home in the dark. But I knew they would do it. Neither Chad or Steve would give up.”
“There was a lot of team work,” Chad said of the duo’s journey.
Teamwork coupled with the kindness of strangers throughout the 180-mile trek has left both men, not to mention Chad’s father Chris, with a lifetime of memories and stories to tell.
“That’s part of the adventure,” Cooper said. “You don’t know what’s around the corner. We talked to a lot of people along the way.”
Chris Fallentine joined the duo for a handful of the legs and Chad’s younger brother Zack completed the foursome as they journeyed from the Carquinez Bridge to Richmond Point.
Cooper indicated that he was comfortable navigating and planning much of the trip with the help of his friends and his own research, but knew the trip into the bay would require professional guidance. Turning to the Internet, Cooper located a guide who would help the foursome through the final stretch.
“He gave us the confidence,” Cooper said of the guide. “He knew what he was doing.”
Now, months later with the journey behind them, Mr. and Mrs. Fallentine are not only proud of their son’s accomplishments, but grateful to Cooper for his friendship.
“It surprises me,” Mr. Fallentine said of his son’s love for adventure and lack of apprehension, noting he considered Chad as being the more ‘cautious’ of his children growing up.
He was never a fan of being thrown in the air as a youth or stringing the lights high on the Christmas tree with dad, Mr. Fallentine said, but has come into his own as the years have gone by.
“It is way awesome,” Mr. Fallentine said of his adventurous son. “I can’t say enough, really I can’t put it into words.
“After the hike (up Half Dome), I have nothing but respect for Steve,” he added of Cooper being a part of Chad’s journey.
“It’s been a real blessing to be here in Oakdale and to meet Steve,” Mrs. Fallentine stated.
“I’m thankful,” Chad said of his friendship with Cooper. “I can do these things that seem a little out there and a little over my head.
“He’s a good guy,” he added, referring to Cooper. “A top notch guy, really into serving others.”
With the family sang his praises, Cooper was visibly humbled by their gratitude.
“He’s a good friend,” Cooper said of Chad. “He’s a good kid. He’s inspirational to me. He’s the only guy I can get to do these crazy things with me. It’s rewarding for me to see him constantly raising the bar.”
Refusing to be limited, Chad has reached further than many believed possible.
“I just feel so blessed that he can do all the things that he can do,” Mrs. Fallentine said of her son.
“He is inspirational to so many,” Cooper concluded. “Like on Half Dome … people would say ‘if Chad can do this, I can finish this.’ He’s really an amazing guy.”