“People with disabilities have the same right to take risks as do their able-bodied friends.”
This quote has stuck with me since my Adaptive Kayaking instructor, Joe Moore of
Adaptive Expeditions made the pronouncement in class several years back. It struck me as sharp as had I been stuck with the edge of a kayak paddle. And, it has shaped the way I approach Team River Runner kayak instruction, trip leading, safety boating, and the camaraderie that naturally connects the paddle-sports community from one end of this nation to the other.
Common wisdom tells us that people with disabling conditions deserve our protection – protection from harm, protection from fear, even protection from themselves. We frequently confuse protection with prevention. We keep people from going where they wish, doing what they want, or exploring the capabilities they may not yet fully understand they possess.
Now, don’t get me wrong – we’re not tossing people into a river and wishing them the best of luck. We provide training, use proper equipment, and obtain additional safety boater support to minimize the consequences should the unexpected happen. Sometimes we need to adapt equipment or change methods, but it is all in the name of being able to take that risk. To illustrate this point, meet Devin.
Devin requires some equipment adaptations and has had to learn some special skills that most paddlers don’t need in order to navigate his kayak downstream. Don’t let this adaptive requirement confuse you into thinking that he doesn’t have the capability, much less the desire, to take risks and experience excitement on the river. Far from it. I think it drives him to excel, to take the same risks the rest of us do and do it with a serenity that comes with his confidence in his skills.
Devin inspires me to continue doing what I learned from Joe Moore and his co-instructor (and inventor of much of the adaptive gear you see in these photos) Kevin Carr of Creating Ability. It is not that Devin is inspirational because he is overcoming such odds in his pursuit of personal excellence. I am inspired because he is teaching me.
Devin is teaching me that there is normality in disability. He is teaching me that pity has no place in my construct of adaptive sports. He is teaching me that you can be pretty busted up and still bust a move, as it were. He is teaching me that laughter still is awfully good medicine.
And, Devin is teaching me that one of the biggest rewards any of us can ever seek in life is an honest and heart-felt smile.
Now, let’s get our adventure on!