Adaptive Kayaking is One Part Water, Two Parts Fun

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The therapeutic powers of water are well known.  We spend our pre-natal days in a liquid environment.  Our bodies are mostly water.  Water is life itself.  It’s no surprise that for those of us with disabilities, water is indeed a magical friend.  It is the great equalizer, allowing us to float effortlessly, without fighting gravity.  As an incomplete quad from a C5-6 spinal cord injury, I have spent a lot of time in and on the water, swimming for exercise and river running for the ultimate outdoor escape. 

When I had the chance to try kayaking, I couldn’t pass it up.  I discovered the opportunity through the TRAILS ( Technology Recreation Access Independence Lifestyle Sports ) program associated with the Rehabilitation Center at the University of Utah Hospital.  TRAILS provides outdoor recreational programs and adaptive equipment for people with spinal cord injuries, offering everything from skiing and hand cycling to camping and kayaking. 

My first time kayaking was in a two-person sea kayak with an able bodied therapist in the seat behind me just in case my balance was lacking, and I found myself in the water.
Fortunately that was not the case and we were soon skimming across the water.  Kayaking is like being in the water, without swimming.  You are inches above the surface, so every ripple and breeze is an event.   The sound of the paddle slapping the water is soothing.  Small motions are all that is required…and recommended.  Make too sudden a move and you could find yourself in the water.

My second time out was solo.  After a few moments of finding my center, I began paddling slowly and smoothly.  It was a calm, cool morning, so I had no waves to deal with.  With each stroke, I gained confidence, and soon I was gliding effortlessly along the dark green surface.  Before long I realized the amazing upper body workout I was getting.  The simplicity of the sport was captivating.  It’s just you, the kayak, a paddle and water. For those living with paraplegia, kayaking is the perfect summer outdoor activity.  Once on the water, you’re on a level playing field with any able bodied person.  


The author putting water to good use.

I wasn’t alone on my kayaking adventure.  There were five of us, with varying levels of function.  The range of adaptive equipment made it possible for all of us to enjoy the experience.  There are kayaks with outriggers for those who need help with balance.  Seating options included simple back supports, or more elaborate seats with side supports and seatbelts.  Roho padded seat cushions, foam side protection, Velcro gloves with straps for those with grip problems…there was an adaptive solution for just about every need.  Everybody was able to get on the water, and have fun.

That’s the message here.  No longer does a disability spell the end of an active lifestyle.  There are many organizations like TRAILS whose mission is to provide recreational opportunities and equipment for people with disabilities.  Kayaking doesn’t require a large body of water.  Any small, calm reservoir or lake is all that’s needed.  And it’s not expensive.  Adaptive equipment is included with most programs.  Or you can rent it through many community or university recreation programs, for a nominal fee.

The best news is that you can probably find an adaptive kayaking program near you.  A quick internet search revealed a variety of kayaking programs available across the country. 

 Here are just a few: