The 2017 Kids are OuttaSight! (KAOS) paddle was held on July 8th on the Conestoga River in Lancaster, PA.
We had a total of 42 participants, many of them children with visual impairments and blindness as well as their family members, safety boaters (including six Veterans who are serving their community through the VSC Program), guides, and friends of KAOS. The event was preceded by a day of good, filling rains that put water in the river and cleared some humidity out of the air.
The morning started with circle time, a VisionCorps standard to focus the kiddos and start the event. We then went into boat fitting and familiarization, paddle indexing, and basic paddle techniques. Jenn Eaton, KAOS Director, began setting up the paddle groups and assigning roving boaters, safety boaters and guides. We shuttled to the put-in after a good lunch break, then ran a somewhat exciting 3.5 mile stretch of the river with two class 1 rapids.
The thing that stood out to me this year, aside from the sheer number of kids in boats, was the way these young athletes challenged themselves and smiled broadly while doing it. Let me explain what I mean here…
Many of these paddlers have great difficulty seeing – if they have vision at all. We got to experience some of their challenges by wearing vision simulation goggles and I have to tell you, I was not brave enough to run a rapid on that river wearing them! Very few of this year’s kayakers had any experience in moving water, let alone anything like the Class 1 rapids that had been “amped up” by the recent rains. And lastly, the kids are pretty small – as kids usually are. a 12-inch wave looks three feet high when you’re seven years old!
But, they did it anyway and laughed and giggled all the way through the waves, smiled and explored the flat sections of the river, and were incredibly proud of their achievement at the takeout 90-minutes later. And you should have seen Mom and Dad at the end of the run! BEAMING with pride…and maybe even a few tears as well. They came as students and walked away as kayakers.
As everyone sorted their gear and got changed into clean, dry clothes, we saw people with their heads held just a little higher. We saw a lot of tired grins and overheard many recounting one of the most exciting days of their lives to their parents and siblings. And, one or two of us got a half-dozen hugs from appreciable youngsters…made my day!
We will be doing KAOS events now throughout the region and throughout the year, thanks to the kind donation of several playboats by local paddlers and the ever-expanding generosity by Team River Runner’s Executive Director, Joe Mornini who loaned us several more playboats for the events of the day. Keep an eye on our calendar and come on out to a KAOS event near you. You will be glad you did!