The Whistler Adaptive Sports Program has trained thousands of people to ski and snowboard on frozen water over the years, but this summer WASP will be using the same water in its liquid form to offer whitewater kayaking to people with physical disabilities.
"Most adaptive kayaking programs are in sea kayaks, not whitewater boats but we have a program that will develop whitewater skills that will move into the Soo River at the end of the clinics," explained Chelsey Walker, coordinator for WASP.
The instructor is Dave Calver, an Ontario native who travelled the world guiding whitewater expeditions before joining the University College of the Cariboo in 2001 as the instructor for their whitewater adventure guide program.
Calver suffered a spinal cord injury in 2003 while mountain biking in the Kamloops area, and is now a paraplegic. Since then he has become involved with WASP a sit ski instructor.
He also lost no time getting back in his boat.
"I was injured on October 29 and did rehab in Vancouver until I was released on January 31 st to go back to Kamloops. I think I was on the river again by April of the same year," he said.
"There are certain situations on the river where Ill realize that Im missing some stuff, like in some super-aerated boiling water in steep creeks my hip is not as strong, but I still paddle everything I used to be able to paddle."
The real challenge is usually access getting down to the put-in areas and into the boat, then back out again. A lot of the top kayak creeks are in challenging locations, "even for able bodied people its not easy," said Calver.
The other challenge is ensuring that a disabled kayakers lower body is tightly secured so their upper body can more easily control the boat.
"Theres definitely a lower body component to whitewater kayaking, but because the sport is so upper body intensive a paraplegic can really easily transition into it," said Calver. "Theres nothing in the stroke mechanics you have to relearn, but there are some adaptive techniques in terms of balance points you need to figure out."
The equipment is also standard, as able-bodied paddlers also have to customize their kayaks to a certain degree says Calver.
The first adaptive kayak course will take place on June 29-30 in Alta Lake, with the assistance of Don Butler of Captain Holidays Kayak and Adventure School at Wayside Park. In total it will run three weekends, at which point Calver will decide whether the group is ready to tackle some whitewater probably the Soo River, but possibly the Green River.
There has been a lot of interest in the program already, as the course is about 60 per cent sold out.
"For the first pilot course we wanted to go with people who have had their disability for a while, all paraplegics, so it was a narrow focus of aspects of disability that we would have to control," said Calver. "Theyre all quite active and somewhat athletic, and most have been through our programs with skiing or are already accomplished skiers.
"We plan to take the lessons learned from this and next summer expand to include a kids program, possibly with more involved disabilities to see if we can accommodate them."
Calver has been on adaptive rafting trips, and once guided a group of paraplegics and quadriplegics on a 16 day rafting trip in Nepal. However, this is the first time hell have instructed a kayak course.
"The beauty of the thing is that it doesnt take strength, kayaking is more of a finesse sport where you learn to use the water to your advantage," he said. "No matter how strong you are you can never out-power the river, its about using that energy to get to where you want to go. Thats the real challenging thing for paraplegics, the lack of sensation in the lower body you need to feel subtle changes in the boat angle, and in the water when you move from place to place. Its always changing, and you need to know when to make a turn, when to maneuver around or behind an obstacle.
"Theres a lot of challenge to it, no doubt about that. Thats where keeping a positive attitude comes into it."
WASP also has a few other events planned for this year.
This summer WASP will run a canoeing program for children with developmental disabilities every three weeks in association with Whistler Backroads, and will host kids from Canuck Place in Vancouver in August.
WASP is also starting a hand cycling program in conjunction with Access Sea to Sky, including the opportunity to do the Slow Food Cycle in Pemberton and a Loonie Race on the valley trail system on August 28.
As well, on July 26 WASP will be involved in a hiking day on Whistler Mountain using special trail riders that were created to help people with diseases like cerebral palsy and spinal cord injuries access the backcountry.
According to Walker, the programs were made available with the funding of the Community Foundation of Whistler and the ongoing assistance of the Resort Municipality of Whistler.
For more information on the whitewater kayak program or other WASP programs visit www.whistleradaptive.com.