Adaptive kayak event strips away limitations for the disabled

Go to Source

Danielle Ferguson



Before hopping into a kayak, Stephen Bruggeman had to strap on one of his four right legs that could handle getting wet.


Clearly, Sunday’s Adaptive Paddling Fair at Family Park wasn’t his first time in the water.


Bruggeman is a Coast Guard veteran who was shot during peacetime about 30 years ago in Kodiak, Alaska. He has a thick white beard, a loud laugh and four right legs, including a swimming leg and a running leg.


He has been kayaking since 2008 when he went on a trip with 17 other veterans to Mexico. The group went whitewater rafting, and Bruggeman took on a 30-foot waterfall seal dive, where the kayak takes a nosedive into the water.


He took a smaller, three-foot seal dive off the dock Sunday at Family Park for the paddling fair.


About 20 adults with disabilities strapped on a life jacket and stripped away the limitations for a morning on the water.


The Sanford Accessibility Wellness Program, the Sioux Falls Veterans Association and the South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association collaborated for a second year to bring people with disabilities the opportunity to kayak.


“There’s no reason why they can’t still enjoy it. There is a way to adapt everything,” said Ann Nelson, recreation therapist with the Sioux Falls Veterans Association.


Some of the kayaks had side outriggers to help balance the paddlers who might not have as much strength to balance the kayak themselves. A $15,000 grant through U.S. Paralympics helped the groups provide adapted kayaks with the outriggers. The remaining kayaks were donated by members of the South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association.


Paddlers glided across the water on a sunny June morning, joined by volunteers from the South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association and the Sioux Falls Fire Rescue as a safety precaution.


Travis Robinson said he loves kayaking for the exercise, fresh air and the feeling of skimming the water. He uses kayaking as a nice escape from the wheelchair he has occupied for 20 years. He said he appreciates all the volunteers who work to help make his hobby possible.


“You’ve got all different sorts of organizations coming down for one common goal, and that’s to get people with disabilities out and enjoying life,” Robinson said.


Cory Diedrich of the South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association thought to get involved when he saw the Sanford Wellness crew taking people with disabilities skiing.


“I thought, if they can ski, they can kayak,” Diedrich said. “Safety is first and foremost, but we’ll adapt the boats to the ability of the paddler.”


Brett Glirbas, who has cerebral palsy, used one of the adapted kayaks. He said he loves getting out on the water.


“It was awesome,” he said. “It’s fun doing an activity everybody else enjoys.”


Last year, Glirbas said, he had to be in a two-person kayak. This time, after a year of building up his upper body strength, he said with some pride that he paddled the lake all by himself.


“The goal is to let them know that there is no reason why they can’t still enjoy a good quality of life,” Nelson said. “There are no limits.”

The South Dakota Canoe and Kayaking association hosted a paddling fair Sunday at Family Lake.


Robinson vacated his wheelchair to go for a first 20-minute round of paddling. After not more than 30 minutes of sitting back in his chair, he again parked his wheelchair in the grass to join his friends on the softly rippling water.


“I’d never known some of the people at the VA. This program brings you together with some of those people who are veterans, which I never might have known without this program,” Robinson said.


After his second go-around, he paddled in to shore with his face upward, basking in the sunshine. Still stationed in the kayak, he drew in a slow, tranquil deep breath, smiled and described his ride as “absolutely wonderful. Absolutely beautiful.”



Adaptive programs


More Sanford Wellness and Veterans Association programs for adults with disabilities:


• Hand cycling

• Down-hill skiing

• Archery

• Veterans golf tournament


Comments are closed.