An Interview with Shep Roeper of nonprofit Beyond Boundaries
Interview by Jeremy Lux, article written by Eric Gasa
Shep Roeper founded his nonprofit Beyond Boundaries with one goal in mind: finding adventure for everybody. His story began in the rustic outdoors of Richmond, Virginia where he discovered his love for nature, sport, and helping others. It’s been a journey that dates from all the way back when he was a kid building teepees in his backyard to today, guiding disabled persons down white water rapids in the James River. His program, Beyond Boundaries seeks to bring exciting outdoor adventures to people who would otherwise not have the opportunity. Roeper’s experience is one of seeking the thrill as well as sharing it.
On the latest episode of the Life In Motion podcast, Jeremy Lux has the pleasure of chatting with Roeper about his program and the healing qualities of nature.
The rough outline for Beyond Boundaries came to Roeper in college after meeting with an advisor that inspired him to pursue the therapeutic characteristics of the outdoors.
“I honestly didn’t know you could major in something like that,” recalls Roeper,
“Like there were times where my friends were like, ‘I got to study and cram for this calculus test’ and I was like, ‘Oh, I feel bad for you because I have to go rock climbing.’”
Roeper realized that the same things he loved about hiking, snowboarding, kayaking, all the thrills of the outdoors, was something special and worth sharing with others. He began working with workshops at his college with his buddy, Kyle that took folks with brain injuries out canoeing or hiking. The experience filled Roeper with a satisfaction that he didn’t know he could find in school.
“Working with them really drove the nail through for me. It was certainly a defining moment in my life. I just knew after that experience this is what I wanted to do,” shares Roeper.
But after college, Roeper admits he kind of fell into a routine.
“Five or six years later Kyle and I were sitting down having a beer one day, just, you know, talking about the good old days and how we really missed what we were doing.”
Shep and Kyle wondered if something similar like their college program even existed in Richmond, Virginia and as it turned out there was a gap to be filled. Great things come from humble beginnings and Beyond Boundaries is no different; Roeper admits he and Kyle took notes for their program on the back of a bar napkin in early 2014. The dream has only caught on and grown from there.
“Our mission is to offer individuals of all ability levels, no matter physical, cognitive, developmental or economic, the opportunity to really get out and experience outdoor activities,” Roeper says, “To sum it up, Beyond Boundaries takes people with disabilities out on outdoor adventures.”
The goal is to not only give these disadvantaged individuals a higher quality of life but to also “build on our commonalities” as people and neighbors. It’s a very admirable thing that Shep and Kyle do on top of having the time of their lives with their folks. But another thing that Beyond Boundaries does is challenge our preconceptions of disabled people. These are not folks with a handicap but rather people with a unique perspective from ours; they are courageous and brave, and just as thrill-seeking and adventurous as us. At its core, that is what Beyond Boundaries is all about and the community of Richmond has shown nothing but love to Roeper and his crew.
“I think we’ve done a good job and it shows. People see it. I’ve had a lot of support from friends and family making this happen. It feels like a lot of pressure and it puts a fire under my tail to really get out there and rock it,” Roeper shares.
With each year Beyond Boundaries grows and grows with the vast majority of volunteers and partners returning each season. In August 2019, Beyond Boundaries launched a fundraiser in partnership with RVA Paddle Sports and Riverside Outfitters to kick off the nonprofit’s new kayaking and paddle boarding adventures.
But for Roeper the greatest risks he’s taken in life were not the monster rapids he takes on the James, but the leap of faith getting Beyond Boundaries off the ground. It can be scary and nerve-wracking but pushing your comfort zone, taking that wild chance, is always the greatest thrill. It’s something that Roeper recommends everyone to do.
Roeper explains how mistakes are always inevitable but its passion that gets you from point A to point B. Sometimes Kyle, Roeper can’t help but think about where all this started; on the back of a bar napkin six years ago. Its humbling.
“So, what got the ball rolling?” asks Lux, “Did you just start scribbling on the back of a napkin and just go for it?”
“I think so,” he replies, “Whether it’s a literal napkin or not, I think when it comes down to it you need that drive and passion… Tell as many people as you can, stand on a street corner and just ask them if this is a good idea, and just start getting feedback from people, see who you're trying to serve and talk to them.”
“Whatever it is,” says Roeper, “just grab that napkin and go for it.”
For more information on Beyond Boundaries check out their website www.beyondboundariesrva.org as well as Facebook and Instagram. To hear the full story on Shep Roeper as well as his first ill-fated white water trip or aka “the white water walking trip” check out the Life in Motion podcast with Jeremy Lux on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play.