A boatload of fun: Adaptive kayaking helps patients enjoy the great outdoors

June 20, 2018  //  FOUND IN: News,

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For Tammy Talvitie’s son, Michael, taking on physical challenges is all about confidence.

“When you’re a child with limb differences, playing sports and doing other recreational activities can sometimes be more challenging than for other kids,” Tammy said about Michael, 10, who is missing a hand.

Last weekend, the pair came to Gallup Park in Ann Arbor to meet with experts from Michigan Medicine, who were putting on an adaptive kayaking clinic specifically tailored to individuals with disabilities.

For Michael, that meant having an opportunity to use equipment that helped attach a paddle to his left arm, allowing him to use both arms to propel a kayak by himself and enjoy being out on the water.

“We had so much fun out there, he had a smile on his face the entire time,” Tammy said. “We had gone kayaking as a family before, but it was previously a bit of a frustrating experience for Michael. This was the exact opposite of that.”

The outing was such a success that Tammy said her family will be purchasing adaptive equipment for all of their future trips.

“It gives him the confidence to be at a level playing field with all of us as we enjoy activities together, and that’s all we can ask for,” Tammy said.

Getting everyone on board

The clinic was hosted by UMAISE — the U-M Adaptive and Inclusive Sports Experience — which is housed within the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. UMAISE will be holding two more kayaking clinics this summer, on July 14 and July 28, with each able to host up to 15 participants who have physical challenges.

“We began this program last year to give families an opportunity to get outdoors and do things they may have never done in the past,” said Becky McVey, a recreational therapist at Mott and coordinator of UMAISE.

Parents can accompany their child on a two-person kayak or individuals can use their own, depending on ability level. At all times, the participants are escorted in accompanying boats by volunteers or PM&R staff members. UMAISE representatives also assist individuals in and out of the kayak and ensure that they are safely and comfortably seated.

“People with disabilities often can’t afford the type of adaptive equipment necessary to safely do these types of activities,” McVey said. “Thanks to our organization, and generous donations from companies such as Epic, we’re able to provide the equipment and open up these opportunities to everyone.”

Enjoying the ride

Children weren’t the only ones to benefit from the recent clinic.

Megan Christ is a certified prosthetist and orthotist in PM&R who has a spinal cord injury and uses a power wheelchair for mobility. She brought her husband, Steve, along to try out the adaptive kayak. The boat has padding and an adjustable seat to help individuals sit upright, a pair of runners to keep the kayak balanced, and a unique paddle that can attach to the bottom of the boat, making it easier to grip and use.

“I’ve been out on the water a couple of times with a regular kayak and regular paddle,” Megan said. “And I would just make some splashes and not really go anywhere. But here, I could grip the paddle and take some strain off my shoulders.

“In the end, I was dragging my husband around on the water, while he got to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride!” she added with a laugh.

Christ said the experience was outstanding and she would recommend it to any families or patients in the area.

“While activities like this take a little extra effort for individuals with disabilities, they’re worth it to see that you can be out there doing the same things as everyone else,” Megan said. “And there’s an amazing crew of volunteers and colleagues here making sure you’re safe and comfortable. It was just a great way to spend a summer day.”