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Disabled Adventurers Outfitting A Kayak For Paddlers With A Disability
See also our article: A Kayaker's Guide To Avoiding Injury & Paddling With Disabilities, Sports Injuries & Joint Pain

Photos Contributed by Mark Theobald of DisabledAdventurers.com

Across our nation, and in fact, the world, the physically challenged are being given more opportunities to leave their handicap on the shore as they launch into the sport of kayaking. From Japan to Scotland and throughout the United States organizations are adding paddling programs for the disabled. (Photo: Mark Olsen w/ CCS youth)

"Sea kayaking is like backpacking to me, except everything is stored in the boat and paddling replaces walking. I can explore unique environments and challenges independently," related one disabled adventurer.

Individuals like Mark Theobald are greatly enlarging such options for people with varied limitations. Called "the disabled kayak inventor/engineer extraordinaire!" by his peers, he has developed kayak paddle and backrest adaptations for the sit-on-top that is encouraging this safe and easy kayak to become the paddle craft of choice for many organizations with disability programs.

Profiled here are several paddlers who's lives have been tremendously enriched by the sport thanks to Mark's innovative designs:

Disabled AdventurersJane: "This is so cool! I never thought I would be able to do this! We did the unexpected!" Jane is a second-year college student at UCLA, in her early 20's, and suffers from cerebral palsy or a CP-like ailment which causes similar disabilities. She has severely limited control over the upper half of her body.

Because of her lack of arm and hand control, Jane came up with the idea of moving Mark's paddling fixture far enough forward for her to use her feet to paddle the kayak. She needed both the paddling fixture and seat adaptation on the Malibu Two. Jane also suffers with spasms and Mark's seat adaptation with the width of the Malibu Two offered more stability for her needs than the solo kayaks.

Disabled AdventurersLeft: Paddling fixture adapted to a Malibu Two Sit-on-top kayak provided by Ocean Kayak, Inc. for the purpose of developing and adapting these fixtures.

"The Malibu Two is simply a fantastic kayak for this purpose," explains Mark, "particularly because it has all the stability even the heaviest paddler could ever desire. The method of attachment I used on the Malibu Two can be used on ANY kayak!"

Disabled AdventurersRight: "The PVC framework around the seat was actually the first part of the seat adaptation I developed," Mark continues. "It has proven to be as helpful as the paddling fixture for people who have no trunk muscles, and especially those who suffer spasms. The addition of a padded PVC pipe that is secured just at the leading edge of the seat pad effectively deepens the seat-pocket and does a great job of ensuring the paddler does not slide forward and off of the seat-pad. It keeps the paddler seated more upright (as much as desired by the paddler), allowing the seat-back and sides to provide a greater level of support."

Disabled AdventurersSteve, a quadriplegic paddler who has very limited hand use and is only able to push with his arms, took Mark's OK Scrambler XT with the paddling fixture out for a test run.

He gave the design concept a very high review and has helped Mark to work out some design challenges.

Disabled AdventurersOn April 1, 2000, Aaron (photo right) went out on the water for the first time since his Xtreme-Downhill Skiing accident left him a quadriplegic two years earlier.

Jack Fischer, (photo left) is becoming a regular in Mark's group, not only for kayaking, but also for scubadiving.

Disabled AdventurersA school teacher in Los Angeles, Jack suffered an accident while training for the Olympics on the parallel bars about 24 years ago that has left him a quadriplegic now for approximately half his life.

Mark puts his designs to the test in the California Pacific with the help of Denise Dowd of Disabled Divers International, Mark Olson a former kayak shop owner and currently a sales rep for Ocean Kayak; as well as Cindy Tokar and other members of the California Children's Services or CCS. He is also involved with SCORE: Spinal Cord Opportunities for Rehabilitation Endowment.

Below are a few questions Adaptive Adventures strongly recommends you consider when evaluating the quality of an adaptive program. Use these for "checking out" a service provider before traveling great distances or entrusting loved ones to someone else's care:

1. Do you know anyone who has participated in the program in the past?

2. Are the instructors well trained and/or certified in the activities which they are teaching? What kind of previous experience do the staff and volunteers possess?

3. Who is responsible for training staff and volunteers?

4. Does the program do a personal evaluation to assess your goals, objectives, and needs?5. What type of adaptive equipment does the program provide? What condition is the equipment in? Do they rent equipment for personal use (on/off site)?

6. How accessible are the facilities associated with the program? Issues such as parking, ramps, shuttles, and distances to be covered are all important.

7. What are the costs to participate? Do they offer any discounts or scholarships?

8. Will they give references?


See also our article: A Kayaker's Guide To Avoiding Injury & Paddling With Disabilities, Sports Injuries & Joint Pain

Disabled AdventurersIf you are interested in learning how to provide safe assistance to disabled paddlers, or are disabled and want to participate in the sport, here are some resources:

*Mark Theobald's Disabled Adventurers website. Learn more about his activities in California with disability programs, the individuals participating and his adaptive designs for the sit-on-top kayak.

Denise DowdDenise Dowd is a key member of Disabled Divers International in California USA and organizes local kayaking trips for disabled paddlers and dive trips for disabled divers. She is an energetic instructor with PADI and the Handicapped Scuba Association (HSA). Denise teaches people with disabilities to dive and she runs an Instructor Training Course (ITC), teaching instructors how to work with the disabled in diving.

*The American Canoe Association has published a book on "Canoeing and Kayaking for Persons with Physical Disabilities" (available, although currently out of print); The ACA does not yet integrate Sit-on-tops into their instructor training. They do have an active disability program for certified ACA instructors. Find out more at this link: http://www.americancanoe.org/

Disabled Adventurers*UCSB Adaptive Paddling Program run by Rick Van Hoorn. He has worked with Mark when UCSB did their first clinic. For information or to enroll, call (805) 687-7444 Ext. 2102

*Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Anyone interested they can contact the coordinator Ashley Fitzz at 805-264-0510.

*Adaptive Adventures offers opportunities primarily for people with physical disabilities including, but not limited to: amputations, paraplegia, quadriplegia, birth defects, cerebral palsy, head injury, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, stroke, and visual impairment. Adaptive Adventures also provides a nationwide index of Adaptive Sports & Recreation Programs for a variety of sports available by state. See http://www.adaptiveadventures.org


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