Photo courtesy of Debbie Timmins
Tualatin Riverkeepers (TRK) held their second annual Adaptive Paddle and BBQ on August 12 at Cook Park as a way to show that anyone, regardless of physical or mental limitations, could paddle. Paddling is the great equalizer. Water doesn’t hold anyone back, regardless of disability.
This year’s event was the largest to date. We had around 40 paddlers with a range of disabilities. Some were amputees, some autistic, some had suffered a stroke that left parts of their body unusable, and still others had suffered spinal cord injuries.
In fact, we had so many participants that we didn’t have enough boats for all of them. We had to send paddlers out in stages. Unfortunately, this meant we couldn’t lead the participants on a tour of the river as we have done in the past, but instead had to keep them within a confined space. The event normally lasts three hours, but I have proposed extending the event to five hours. I doubt anyone who volunteers for the event would have any complaints, because it is such a worthwhile cause.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention all the help TRK and I have received from Ashley and her crew at Adventures Without Limits. They have provided us specially configured boats all four years of the event. These past two years, however, Ashley and her staff have been on site helping assist the disabled in and out of the boats.
Of all the paddling trips I lead throughout the year or volunteer for as a safety boat, no event fills me with more joy than this adaptive paddle event. To see the joy on everyone’s face is so rewarding, and that’s what keeps me coming back year after year as the co-facilitator. I’ve seen people who are repeat attendees and who I’ve gotten to know on a first-name basis. In fact, this is the one paddling event in which I prefer to be on the land meeting and assisting all the participants instead of on the water serving as a safety boat.
The event has evolved somewhat over those four years since I first proposed the original adaptive paddling event to Margo at TRK, but what remains is the dedication TRK and I have to accommodating people with disabilities by getting them in boats and on the water. And the one constant I’ve witnessed over the four years is the joy participants have when they realize their disability stops at the water’s edge and that it need not stop them from paddling.
If you happen to have a disability of any sort, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t paddle. I’ll help you prove them wrong.