Gaining independence: Vermont’s adaptive kayaking program continues to grow

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It’s no secret people are getting outside more with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Vermont, but it holds a different meaning for people with disabilities.

Cathy Webster, a physical therapist in Colchester, is quadriplegic. A friend got her thinking about the lack of outdoor activities for people with physical limitations. From there, the adaptive kayaking program was born with just one athlete.

Six years later, about 70 Vermonters are taking part in the growing league under the Northeast Disabled Athletic Association.

“My goal is for every participant to paddle on their own,” she said. “They feel like they’re not disabled because they’re on the same level as their friends when they’re in a kayak on the water.”

Webster says athletes come to her, needing a wide range of adaptations to take part in the sport.

“The pontoons extend quite far out to the side of each boat, adding stability,” she said. “This seat back is very comfortable, it makes the paddling possible for just about anybody.”

She says specific modifications are made to the equipment to make kayaking possible, but it’s all with one common goal in mind– achieving independence. Something that Webster says is even more important than ever right now, as many athletes had to put the sport they love, on hold during the pandemic.

“It gets them out and it gets them exercising,” she said. “If it takes 5 or 6 sessions and if we just paddle back and forth, that’s fine. It’s all about gaining independence.”

The kayaking league practices every Tuesday and Thursday through October. The NDAA also offers sports like sled hockey, power soccer, and sailing.

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