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Best Moments in Life
Christopher Di Virgilio

One Wyoming women captures the spirit of living life with a disability and lands this year's Get Out, Enjoy Life top spot

Read on...

Got Whitewater?

Reprinted from SNS March 2008

If you're the adventurous type-or if you want to move out of your comfort zone-consider getting out on the rapids.

I was paralyzed from the chest down in a mountain biking accident four years ago (T6 complete), so you might think paddling an inflatable kayak or raft through class III+ whitewater is among the least intelligent and most dangerous pastimes I could possibly pursue.

There is no denying the inherent risks involved, but with proper emphasis on safety, fun, and learning, these high-challenge, calculated risks are much safer than you may think. Ask anyone who has tried it and they will likely tell you, "Participating in whitewater sports is by far the most fun you can have with your clothes on!"

Mark Wellman had his first taste of whitewater rafting while he was able bodied, but it was after his injury that he pursued the sport of whitewater kayaking.
I am part of a small group of disabled whitewater enthusiasts, but for people with disabilities paddle sports in general have often been hailed as "the great equalizer." Once out of your wheelchair, in your boat, and on the water, you become incognito and all but indistinguishable as a person with a disability. It is a sport that allows you not only to participate with your able-bodied peers but also to do so as one of your able-bodied peers. With the exception of completing an eskimo roll in a hard-shell kayak-which typically requires the ability to use a "hip snap" to initiate the roll-paddle sports almost exclusively use upper-body muscles. Once on the water, mobility impairments are easily forgotten and people's abilities are generally equalized.

What more can you ask for in a sport that already combines exercise, recreation, and bathing?

Whitewater Rafting: The Perfect Place To Start

If I've sparked your interest in this action-packed pastime, consider taking a professionally guided raft trip as a safe introduction into the realm of whitewater recreation. Disabled Sports USA (DS/USA) Far West organizes adventures on the South Fork of the American River, California's most popular commercially rafted river, and caters its trips exclusively for people with disabilities and their families. The day trips through the world-famous class II/III+ Chile Bar and Gorge runs are affordable, inclusive, safe, and fun, and are available for anyone with physical, cognitive, or developmental disabilities and their families.

DS/USA Far West President Doug Pringle had his first (and unforgettable) experience on the whitewater shortly after losing his leg in Vietnam in 1968.

"Jim Winthers, a World War II veteran and pioneer in the adaptive-sports movement, took a group of newly disabled amputees and our girlfriends down the South Fork in the spring of 1971," Pringle said. "He cleverly put all the women and beer in his boat and pushed off down the river, leaving six one-legged men with an army surplus raft and a set of oars to fend for ourselves.

"It's amazing we survived that trip at all. Our boat popped on the first rock we hit, and we deemed it safer to swim the rapids while hanging on to the remnants of our boat. While I would hardly call what we did 'rafting,' I was instantly hooked and eventually became a professionally certified whitewater guide. With proper knowledge of swiftwater rescue and whitewater river-running techniques, we began taking people with disabilities on raft trips in 1987 and haven't stopped since."

DS/USA Far West was the first organization I rafted with after becoming paraplegic. Since I didn't have enough balance to sit on the side of the boat to paddle (the typical rafting position), I sat in the front in a bucket seat that was used for adapted snow skiing (another DS/USA Far West program). This provided the stability I needed while still allowing me the range of motion to help paddle the boat.

Before the trip I wasn't sure the staff would be able to accommodate my disability, but after our successful run down the river I had an adrenaline rush that lasted for days and a new passion in my life: whitewater.

Whitewater rafting is great fun and is the best way for people with disabilities to experience new rivers and big water for the first time, but I soon grew thirsty for something more. I wanted to navigate through the rapids independently, in my own boat and under my own power.

Check out the complete article in the March 2008 S'NS.


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