"It just seemed like common sense," Melanie Knecht explained. "He's the legs, I'm the eyes -- boom! Together, we're the dream team."
Melanie Knecht and Trevor Hahn are living examples of the phrase "teamwork makes the dreamwork." Knecht — who was born with Spina bifida and uses a wheelchair to get around — and Hahn — who lost his eyesight due to glaucoma six years ago — made headlines last year when they joined forces to navigate Colorado's stunning mountains and trails. The resourceful duo's paths crossed when they first met at an adaptive boxing class and ran into each other again a few weeks later at an adaptive rock climbing class, where they learned of each other's love of nature. Realizing that they could use their strengths to help each other explore the great outdoors, Knecht and Hahn came up with an ingenious idea to hike together.
"It just seemed like common sense," Knecht told Good Morning America. "He's the legs, I'm the eyes -- boom! Together, we're the dream team." The Fort Collins adventurers take on the Centennial State's mountains with Hahn carrying Knecht in a secure harness on his back while she guides him along the trail with verbal directions. Speaking to 5280 about the inspiration behind their teaming up, Knecht explained: "I visited Easter Island in 2012 and used a backpack carrier for the first time. It didn't fit and was super uncomfortable, but I was able to do things I could have never done in a wheelchair. I thought it would be really cool to try something with a better carrier, so after meeting Trevor in 2018, I brought the idea up."
"When I hike, I'm always guided by someone walking in front of me. I wanted to serve a bigger purpose on the trail," added Hahn. "This way, we both have a purpose and this huge responsibility". Knecht explained that she describes everything she sees on the trail to her hiking partner to help him navigate the path and figure out his next step. "Communication is number one. I'm trying to warn him about obstacles far in advance, but also tell him if he's about to trip on a rock or root in that moment. I have to interrupt myself to give directions," she said.
"It takes a lot of teamwork. If I fall, she falls. Lower branches can sometimes be a problem," Hahn explained. "My trekking poles can usually find things on the ground, but nothing above. If I have a guide, they can tell me what to watch out for, but that doesn't always happen..." The pair believes that the best part about hiking together is giving each other the opportunity to do something others perceive to be an impossible challenge for them. "It made me so happy to help someone experience what I've been able to experience my whole life," said Hahn.
"Just getting on top of a mountain, a car can't get to it, you just feel that sense of accomplishment. The best part is being able to make her smile. That gives me purpose," he added. Knecht also loves the freedom their collaboration gives her. "I've been in a wheelchair my whole life, and it's an amazing feeling to leave it literally miles behind on the trail. I even couldn't get in it if I wanted to, and that's a great feeling," she said. The duo added that another thing that makes their team special is that they don't feel like a burden on one another. Knecht explained that with able-bodied or sighted people, there is guilt involved in asking them for help when she isn't able to reciprocate. However, with each other, they understand what it's like to live with a disability and assist each other on the journey.
"We go a little slower and need to take lots of breaks, but that's what we both need," said Hahn. The pair encourage able-bodied people to be mindful of their friends with disabilities and think about how they can find adaptive solutions to include them in activities. "Ask questions of people with disabilities, to see what they like and what they want to do," said Knecht. "Don't not include them because you think they won't be able to do something."