As Sam noted, I have been helping out at Bay Cliff a bit the last couple weeks. Initially with staff training, and this week with the first pool sessions. Bay Cliff is my home away from home; the place that brought me to the UP 20 years ago to spend my first summer on the shores of Superior. I remember one of my days off that summer – I went hiking with friends along Pictured Rocks. And I saw a kayaker below. I knew that was where I wanted to be!
Four years later, I moved to the UP – and in the spring I started looking for – and purchased – a kayak. Coincidentally, about that same time our camp director met Janet Zellar, then president of the American Canoe Association (ACA) and founder of the ACA’s adaptive paddling program. Thus began my kayaking journey… always a blend of personal growth and skill development and the development of a kayaking program at Bay Cliff. First for the adult camp session, then for the kids camp.
All the campers at these sessions have some form of disability – a physical, vision, hearing or speech impairment. The kids program includes therapy and formal goals to reach new levels of independence. For me, combining my background as a Physical Therapist with those of a developing kayaking instructor was a natural. The payoff is seeing kids set new goals… to be able to hold their breath under water so they can do a wet exit; to perform an independent wet exit; to be able to paddle a boat out on the lake; to be able to do a T-rescue; to have a water war. Yeah, water wars on warm, sunny days are a big part of camp. The program keeps evolving with new equipment, ideas and challenges always emerging.
As kayaking has evolved, so has off the shelf equipment. Much of what we use for “adaptations” these days are used by lots of folks – including myself. Basically, it is outfitting and customizing a boat to maximize performance. For some folks, more extensive postural support is required. Last year and this year, we have had a huge breakthrough with the availability of the Universal Paddling Seat. This year, the developer Kevin Carr, has continued to update the product and made a smaller (and more colorful version!) for Bay Cliff. These seats have made a huge difference in the ease and success of paddling for our campers that need additional trunk support. They are awesome. However, last year the kids and I decided “universal paddling seat” was too much of a mouthful. So, we call it the Cadillac back – because it is such a delux, top of the line model!