Certain physical disabilities can make it hard for those to be recreationally active. Because of that, one Vermont woman is trailblazing the adaptive sports industry.
Cathy Webster helps the disabled community enjoy the outdoors and recreate independently through ‘Adaptive Kayaking.’ In some cases, she says, this gives them a different outlook on life.
“It puts everybody at the same playing field, and makes everyone feel and look the same, which is really nice,” says Cathy, the program manager with the Northeast Disabled Athletic Association.
Originally from Canada, Cathy started her journey in physical therapy, and she works at the RehabGYM in Colchester, Vermont. She says the idea for creating the Adaptive Kayaking program sprang from one simple question she received.
“I have been a physical therapist for many years, and one of my clients about seven years ago, we were working together in the pool, and she has been a quadriplegic for many years, and after a few years those exercises just get boring. So, we were chatting about things to do and where we could go, and she said, ‘do you think I’d ever be able to kayak?’”
Cathy notes, “that was basically all I needed to then take my kayak into the pool at work and see what it took.”
Through lots of research, trial, and error, Cathy put together the perfect adapted kayak.
“At the very end of the first year I found this company called ‘Angle Oar’ that makes this paddle which eliminates the need to bring your arm up high to paddle, and that helped the seating position, the stability and everything,” she says.
“I remember when we finally got the prototype for the paddle, and we went out on a November day to try it, and that’s when the experience became an adventure,” says Cathy.
That adventure soon turned into a popular program. In the summer of 2016, Cathy helped two people kayak. Now, she’s booked five days a week.
“Over the past seven years, word of mouth has expanded to 150 people a summer. In total, because some people come once or twice, there’s been about 300 people we’ve served, so it’s really grown exponentially.”
But she doesn’t do it all herself. Cathy has a team of volunteers to help take kayakers on the water. The Adaptive Kayaking program runs under the Northeast Disabled Athletic Association, a certified nonprofit.
“The kayaking really filled a void in the community of disabled people. Many people want to do things but can’t and end up doing a ride, or just watching something. The nice thing about the kayak setup is that people who are profoundly disabled are able to kayak independently,” she says.
Cathy says the independence is what makes her program so special. She’s looking forward to taking more kayakers to different bodies of water to give them the full experience of summer water recreation.