For about one blissful hour on a sweet spring day in June, Ken Ryno felt free. Free from the paralysis that rendered his legs immobile after a 1979 motorcycle accident broke his neck and back. Free from pain. Free to glide along the waters of Lake Nockamixon in Bucks County as he gently paddled his kayak in the company of a small cadre of friends.
As the Kunkletown resident slid out into the lake, alternately dipping his paddle into the water, first the right side, then the left, Ken found something, even as he left something else behind.
“When you’re out there, it just gives you a sense of equality, freedom and sheer enjoyment,” said Ken. “You leave everything on shore with your wheelchair.”
That sentiment was shared by others in Good Shepherd’s spinal cord injury support group who turned out for the excursion. The outing was organized by Jason Angstadt of Fleetwood, an avid outdoorsman and also a group member, in partnership with L.L. Bean of Center Valley which provided instruction and equipment.
“Kayaking is a great sport for people with disabilities,” said Jason, who was working as a herdsman when an overly-protective mother cow charged him in 2011, causing irreparable damage to his spinal cord. “Little or no special adaptations are needed, and we can participate alongside people without disabilities.”
Jason’s interest in adaptive kayaking was piqued last year. He found out about L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School and hooked up with Steve Johnson, department manager, who runs the school.
Jason and two others from
the support group went kayaking with Steve and began working together to plan an outing that would involve more people. Steve is certified to teach through The American Canoe Association and wants to become certified to teach adaptive canoeing and paddling.
“This was something on my radar that I wanted to accomplish,” said Steve. No adaptive equipment was necessary for this excursion although some foam padding was used to help with a couple of kayakers who needed a little extra core support.”
Steve and Jason worked closely with Good Shepherd therapists to make certain participants were physically able to go kayaking. Hand, arm and core strength were all considerations, said Steve. Kayakers also had to have the ability to turn over and rotate their heads up above the water should they fall in.
Happily, everyone remained in their kayaks. “They all did really well,” said Jason. “Nobody got wet. We had a blast.”
For Daniele D’Angelis of Jim Thorpe, this was her first time kayaking, but she hopes it won’t be the last.
“It was great just being able to enjoy the wilderness and be on top of the water and see the sailboats and the scenic view,” she said as she landed on shore. “I’m definitely going to do it again. It was worth it. The lake was beautiful.”
Steve Johnson said the experience for him and his staff who helped out was very meaningful. “We took a lot of pride in being able to help Jason and his friends have a fabulous afternoon on the water,” he said. “What I really learned is how indomitable the spirit is of these folks and how lucky I am to be able to offer this and work with these guys.”