What are the first thoughts that come to your mind when you think about the sport of canoe/kayaking? Physically demanding? Mentally challenging? What about someone with a disability, perhaps in a wheelchair, taking part in this sport? Do you think it’s possible? If your answer is no, then think again.
Introduced in 2006, PaddleAll is a program by Canoe Kayak Canada which allows people with a variety of disabilities to participate in canoe/kayaking using adaptive equipment. The program is run by Canoe Kayak Canada through their member clubs across Canada.
The Wai Nui O Kanaka Outrigger Club based in Oakville is one club which offers the PaddleAll program. Wendy Rae-Perkins, the Commodore of the club, and her partners, have started a project to make the Wai Niu O Kanaka Outrigger Club more accessible and adaptable. “We want to celebrate our location here and make sure that the connection to our amazing resources is open to everybody. We’ve come a long way in making the waters more accessible,” said Wendy.
Wendy and her team found a universal seat and with the help of some experts they were able to adapt the seat to fit into their boats. This seat allows individuals with almost any disability into boats such as canoes or kayaks. Wendy and her partners showcased this new seat to the Canadian Canoe Association, which was hosting the World Championships for Canoe/Kayaking in Halifax. The seat has been so successful that it resulted in a new category being added to the competition for adaptive boats. This means individuals with disabilities can compete against other athletes without disabilities in the competition.
Shelly Dan is a member of the Wai Nui O Kanaka Outrigger Club and has been in a wheelchair for seven years. At first she was apprehensive about how she would cope living on her own, but once she realized that she could do it she turned her thoughts to what more she could do. She’s always loved the water and when a friend asked her if she would like to go canoeing, she seized the opportunity.
“People forget that even though I’m in a wheelchair I’m still normal and like to do all of the same things as them, like going out in the water. Tonight was amazing. I got to do something which I had always wanted to do when I had two legs, but didn’t have the nerve to do!” said Shelly after her first ever canoeing trip at the club.
Steven Cullen broke his neck 20 years ago in a tobogganing accident. In the summers that followed he would often sit by the side of the lake watching the hustle and bustle of life on and around the water, remembering the exhilaration of sailing, and reflecting on the absence of people in wheelchairs and wondering if it would ever change. He started Charterability about seven years ago - offering barrier-free accessible charter boat services for people of all ages with disabilities.
After meeting Wendy Rae-Perkins and seeing her adaptive paddling program Steve became a partner. “Charterability is about getting people out in the water, from children and seniors to individuals with a range of mobility disabilities. We decided to pool our resources to create a facility which is good for the whole gamut of water recreation and make it accessible for everyone,” said Steve.
Communities across the province are making strides to break down barriers for people with disabilities. The PaddleAll program represents a proactive and positive move forward to be more inclusive and help people with disabilities to have full participation in everyday life.