Silence fills the air as the interpreter signs the question, “What did you think about today?”
Ronnie Nickerson rapid-fires his answers with his hands: “I like learning to paddle and going into the eddies. I know I need to have speed, and then the right angle and lean into it, so I practiced that today. It was a lot of fun.” Then Ronnie laughs and adds, “And Maggie splashed me with water!”
One of the greatest blessings of the James River through Richmond is the diversity of water features, where advanced boaters and beginners alike can enjoy the river, be challenged, and learn. Taking advantage of that, Sportable offers a kayaking program for their athletes, like Ronnie.
“A lot of our athletes are in wheelchairs or some have trouble walking,” notes Cat Anthony, Operations Director of Sportable. “We have spinal cord injuries, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, some amputations, and visually impaired athletes. Once they get on the water it’s an equal playing field for everyone. They are able to kayak and have a great time. “
Greg Velzy, Outdoor Adventure Programmer for Chesterfield Parks’ Outdoor Programs, is working with Sportable to provide instruction and safety.
“We’re making sure people of all abilities get out on the water and realize once we are on the water we’re all equal,” he says. “And getting over that barrier that some people think there’s a disability involved but this way there’s not. We’re sitting in a kayak and we’re all the same out there. I love that.”
Each athlete that participated in the recent program, paddling upstream from Huguenot Flatwater, expressed a real sense of fun and learning. “I found the eddies!,” jokes Carolyn Andrews. “Eddie Monster wasn’t there this time!”
Jacob Pribble, agrees, “It was fun. I learned a lot. I learned how to get out and go into the eddie better.”
The mother daughter duo of Karen Sparrow and Emma Williams also spent the two hours on the water learning the basics of eddies. “It’s awesome to get out on the water in a supported environment. Knowing that I’d be able to challenge myself as much as I was able to but that I would have help and support to a degree when I couldn’t do it. It was great fun,” Emma says. “It was fun to learn how to keep the kayak in control and not be so behind.”
Then with a huge big old smile on her face she adds, “And get wet!”
It is, after all, summer in the city and the James is the best place to be!