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Adaptive Paddling Workshop

Hi, my name is Mike Adams. Four days of a physical and emotional roller coaster ride, and I’ve safely landed a new person.  Please allow me to walk you (or paddle you) through the process of change that occurred over the Four-Day ACA Adaptive Paddling Workshop hosted by Venture Outdoors in conjunction with Dynamic Paddlers.
Rewind to the day before the class; as the Senior Site Supervisor of Kayak Pittsburgh I had a lot of expectations to live up to.
Day 1 was all classroom.  We spent most of the day learning the core concepts of adaptive paddling.  I drank WAY too many cups of coffee but enjoyed all of the new ideas that were introduced.
Day 2 we were off to North Park Lake where we were dressed to get wet!  As part of the workshop, we learned how to safely rescue people who have limited to no use of their arms or legs.  At the end of the day, we were assigned groups and given information on the participants we would be working with over the next two days.  The instructors picked me to be the lead of our group–talk about added pressure!  My group was the only group of three, and we were the “Dream Team” with Equipment & Facilities Manager, Jim Smith, Volunteer Trip Leader and Nurse, Mary Lynn Marsico, and myself–Mr. Kayak Pittsburgh.  If we couldn’t do it, nobody could!  The information presented to us about our participant was definitely eye opening.  The challenges that faced us seemed impossible to overcome. At times, the thought crossed my mind “is it even possible to get this person on the water?”
APW 1Day 3 we met the participants.  I was excited and nervous.  I’m not used to being around people with disabilities and felt uncomfortable at first.  My participant showed up with a shirt saying “10 fingers are overrated”.  With a sense of humor like that, I knew we would get along.  The “Dream Team” sat down with the participant and, after an hour and a half of figuring out what the participant needed, we got to work constructing a custom setup to make it possible to paddle.  Oh yeah, did I tell you all we had to work with was three types of foam, some bike inner tubes and some duct tape?  We also had a three hour time limit, half of which was burned just talking!  One at a time we knocked out all issues that faced our participant.  With some scrambling at the end, we finished the entire roll of duct tape and our build.  We built foot rests, behind the knee supports, compound sloped seat, and even custom paddle grips with a little help from the head instructor.
Next, we went to the swimming pool for a test to see how our new kayak would hold together.  Our participant had been in a wheelchair the entire time up until this point.  I’m a tall guy and it was such a joy to spend time standing with my participant!  Water really is the great equalizer!!  The participant was a quick study in the pool.  She made it easy with the help of my team to get her paddling. APW 2
Day 4: the final test.  I was SUPER excited for this day.  All the hard work was done.  Three days of practice and testing for this.  Now we relax and do what we are supposed to: HAVE FUN!!  Despite the rain we got to the North Park Lake bright and early.  Just like we practiced, the real world was no different than the dress rehearsal.  Some minor modifications needed to be made on-the-fly but all-in-all our participant was a “lean-mean-kayaking-machine”.   APW 3
Throughout this process I grew not only as a kayaker/coach/outdoor enthusiast but also an athlete and person.  It taught me that any physical issues that I face are miniscule.  Pure passion and heart can overcome even the biggest of hurdles.

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