Adaptive Paddling: Changing "Time Out of a Wheelchair" to "An Adventure"
Cathy Webster is a Physical Therapist at The RehabGYM in Colchester, Vermont and an avid kayaker. A few years ago, she decided to merge these two passions. With the help of the Northeast Disabled Athletic Association, Cathy worked to develop an adaptive paddling program that would benefit her clients and people from the community at large.
When Angle Oar LLC launched a few years back, Cathy contacted us expressing interest in using our Versa Paddle, curious about how it might work for some of her clients. As a PT, she works with a wide range of children and adults with disabilities, injuries and health conditions. She said she was “looking forward to the freedom and independence that the Versa will allow my clients to have,” citing the paddle’s “excellent design and versatility."
Cathy has tried a number of adaptive kayaking products and techniques, and many continue to be an important part of her program. She was optimistic that Versa might remove some of the obstacles that other assistive paddling methods couldn’t overcome, such as keeping the foot space in the cockpit unencumbered and supporting the weight of the paddle.
That October, we sent her one of the first “proof of concept” paddles that we received in advance of the full shipment. On a beautiful 60 degree day in Northern Vermont, she and one of her patients, Jamie Perron, had a chance to try it out on the serene Metcalf Pond.
Jamie is an artist in her mid- 30s and, according to Cathy “an inspiration of this program.” About 20 years ago she was hit head-on by another car which resulted in her being a C3-4 quadriplegic (among many other injuries). Jamie has minimal movement of her arms now with a lot of muscle weakness and very little trunk control. In addition to giving kayaking a try, Jamie is also active in power wheelchair soccer.
Cathy says that Jamie has tried a number of paddle assists and, together, “we have spent more time fiddling with the alignment of the hand holds and wraps to keep them positioned correctly than actually paddling.” On their first outing using Versa, “I re-adjusted her hands just once,” said Cathy. Not only that, “she used wrist splints only, no wraps! Maneuverability and control were also easier than with prior setups.”
“In the past Jamie has been out on the water for 45 minutes max, usually sitting and resting for long periods, and she needed to get towed back to shore because her arms would get tired so quickly,” reports Cathy. “Get ready for this: today we were out for 1 hour and 15 minutes with no rests and Jamie paddled completely independently!!!” Versa changed our paddling experience on water from “time out of a wheelchair” to an “ADVENTURE”!!! It was so much fun. We went across a pond, around an island and back.”
“I couldn't believe how much of a difference having the Versa Paddle made, but it did, and seeing how far I was able to travel by myself is the proof," says Jamie. "I will NEVER go back to using a regular oar. I can't wait to get back out on the water in the spring! Thank you, Angle Oar.”
Cathy went on to explain that “because of being able to paddle continuously, the activity was aerobic -- something Jamie has not been able to do since her injury. And Jamie had the biggest smile as we paddled past the smell of decaying leaves, pine trees blowing and leaves falling.”
Update: Since we first wrote this article, Jamie continues to be an avid kayaker, going out for hours at a time and getting stronger every year!
Who Else Might Use Versa Paddle
Based on her experience so far, Cathy thinks that Versa, or our companion product, the Gamut Paddle Holder, might be well-suited* for the following:
Any disability that limits functioning to one or both arms (e.g., stroke, Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, amputation)
People with shoulder, elbow, neck and/or wrist weakness/pain, even temporary, from post op to a fracture
People with cardiac or pulmonary issues
Anyone with low endurance
Fishermen and women (e.g., to have one hand free to paddle and the other to cast or reel in fish)
*This is not an official recommendation and any adaptive paddling program should be considered in consultation with the paddler, his or her doctors, and a certified adaptive paddling instructor.