Handicapped Paddler Advice needed asap

Hi, I would appreciate any input/suggestions for a teenage paralyzed girl we are organizing to bring kayaking tomorrow at Lake Arthur, PA. It is a nice calm smallish lake and we may accompany a group that is going out for a nature talk on the water. I have a family of 4 and we are comfortable kayakers with extra kayaks/gear and would like this classmate of my son to join us as tomorrow looks like good weather and apparently this girl is pretty sad and refuses to do much of anything but…is agreeable to join us!

She can use her arms still and has kayaked a little in the past before her accident. We are choosing a perception sparky - wide and stable for her to use and a good tight fitting pfd that my daughter uses. As this is unfamiliar territory to us, is there anything we need to know that will aid us in making this an enjoyable afternoon for her? We are giving the parents and younger sibling a canoe to use so they will accompany us for medical reasons as well as the pure enjoyment of it!

Any suggestions/input would be greatly appreciated. I can bring a yakpad seat cushion but i really am not knowledgeable about such things and the parents aren’t paddlers.



She will not be able to use the foot braces in the kayak to keep herself in the seat and if the boat were to flip, they may become an entrapment issue. A solid foam wall at the front of the boat would be better for her and safer but since you probably do not have the time at the very least remove the foot pegs.

Her comfort in the boat will really depend on how much torso control she retains. There are special seats designed to help hold torsos. You may want to be prepared to pad her thighs to the side of the boat so that she stays centered in the boat.

A lot of the modifications will depend on her needs. The folks that I have worked with have been very forward about their abilities and were good about giving feedback on how to make the activity more comfortable and accessible. Kayaking offers a new level of mobility freedom. Hopefully she will become hooked.

You have the safety parts covered?
Would rescuing the girl in case of a capsize pose any problems? If not, let the girl set the pace and push herself as far as she can. Be patient if she is slow, but bring along a tow rope. In general, make no assumptions about what is best for the girl. Have her communicate her wishes, and energy levels with you.

Thank you
I will probably move up the pegs so they are completely out of the way - or if that doesnt look right - remove them. I never even thought about her possibly sliding in it as it is quite wide and she is petite - thank you ! I will see what i can muster up to help keep her upright. That is so appreciated - this is exactly what i need as i never even thought about that. I hope she becomes hooked too ! This could be a whole new freedom for her.

thanks a bunch!

You could use
an inflated float bag as a bulkhead.

safety issues ok
We have a seatec toe rope, bilge pump, and paddle float although i think if she were to capsize - one of use would get into the water with her for comfort and as it is a small lake - take her and boat to shore as a reentry with her paralysis probably not feasible. Yes, we will let her set the pace especially as she is not familiar with the boat and it is very wide and we aren’t sure what will be too tiring for her. Thanks - more good ideas!

You are doing the right
thing by surrounding her with experienced yakers, family and friends, extra gear. Hope she has a great day and wants to do it next weekend!

We all take for granted that we drive to and from work 5 days a week and then paddle on weekends.

Keeping her warm may be an issue.

Disabled Adventurers Website…
…is an incredibly good source of information about and experience with adaptive paddling. Not a lot of help for tomorrow, I know, but they are truly great folks; they’ve been wonderfully supportive of my efforts to get our daughter who has very limited use of one arm after major surgery paddling again. Extremely good ideas, very simple and do-able,and they are very generous with their time and advice. You might also want to send your young friend the link, so she can see just how capable some disabled folks are, and how relatively simple modifications can open the doors to whole new worlds for her! Best of luck, especially to your young friend - tell her we all hope to see her on the water.




assume she’s great at it and…
My friend who has lost a leg and who is a very large woman paddles a Pungo quite often. And all alone. The hardest parts for her are getting the kayak back onto the truck rack when she’s finished, getting herself from the parking space to the waterside, and dealing with people who assume she can’t move a kayak with her arms alone. I suggest you make sure that she’s got a clear entry to the Sparky and that you then assume that she can paddle just like the rest of your beginners unless/until she shows you that she wants some help.

She needs assistance
We will need to carry her and set her in the kayak as she is wheelchair bound but i found out she has great balance and can hold herself upright so i have lots of stuff to fill in any gaps on the sides etc and cushions for under her legs/feet - i will figure out what works when we have her inside the sparky but it is quite a large opening and she is quite thin so we should have no problem there. But again, this is all new to me!

wheelchairs don’t stop 'em
I have met a gentleman who is paralized from kid rib cage down and he is impressive. He wheels himself as far as he can, then gets in his boat (similar style model, but I for get which one) and uses two graphite treking poles to sort of ski himself to the water.

Never underestimate ones inginuity. Adaptive paddling is a TRULY INSPIRATIONAL endevor.

Take alot of pictures! Be sure to get one of her in the water and the chair on shore.


I will, thank you
I plan on taking my camera especially if they dont bring one so these pics might inspire her in future endeavours - plus maybe i can get a picture put into her high school yearbook!

Thanks also to Rick for that website, i spoke with Mark and he gave me some extra ideas. My hubby is outside tonight rigging up our new utility trailer so we can carry all these boats! I am excited for tomorrow and hope we can put a smile on her face!

Let us know
how it goes.

I happen to be a T-10 paraplegic
and have paddled stern seat in a Jensen 18 canoe for about 20 years. The Jensen 18 is considered by some to have uncomfortable stability but I’ve never had any such problems with it and in fact enjoy paddling the 18 tremendously. I use a Crazy Creek or a Wenonah strap on canoe seat for both bottom padding and a backrest. I have to lean back into the backrest when paddling in large waves because I don’t have muscle balance around my waist. Because I can’t use my legs to brace, I can’t get full power into forward strokes and usually sit with my legs crossed to help with balance. If you can’t obtain a strap on seat, you should be able to pad the cockpit for side and back support.

Kayaks are often be preferred over canoes by paralyzed paddlers because they have a lower center of gravity and provide a better sense of personal security. After my injury, I first began paddling kayaks but my problem was getting my long legs in and out of the cockpit so I went to canoes. I would suggest care when positioning your young friend’s legs in the kayak. Please also do everything possible to avoid pressure sores, which are the bane of most paralyzed folks. If a paralyzed person sits for too long in one place, like a kayak seat, their skin can break down into sores that take a long time to heal. If she is a recent injury, she may not know her limit for such sores. There are wheelchair cushions that can help or she may know about doing frequent weight shifts that reposition her skin or lift her bottom up to allow blood to circulate through the pressured skin. I suggest asking her parents if they have a strategy to avoid pressure sores on your trip.

Every disabled paddler is unique and has individual balance, strength, confidence, and medical issues that need to be thought out before first adventures. If her paralysis is from a recent injury, she is indeed going through a depressing life transition. With patience, supervision, and good judgment you shouldn’t have any problems. You’re doing a wonderful thing to introduce her to the natural freedom and fun of paddle sports. For me, paddling with my wife has been good exercise, confidence building, a freedom not available in a wheelchair, and a rare chance to enjoy nature as I did before my injury.

Hope this helps,


Wonderful People, Aren’t They?
Mark and his friends at Adaptive Paddlers are really something, aren’t they? Hope you guys have a great day on the water, and that it’s the first of many!

Regards,and take care out there.


Thank you also!
I guess since her parents will be with us, they can judge when she will need moved/shifted or taken right out. I will trust their decision on this one and didnt think about that part either. Perhaps her wheelchair cushion will work but not sure depending on how high it is. I have a gel-pad kayak seat cushion which might work - I will load up lots of stuff tomorrow a.m. and hopefully something will work out of it all! Her injury was about 2 years ago so i guess they have things pretty well ironed out by now but again, i really dont know. I only run into them periodically so i do not know very much about her life and its limitations. I only know that she is having trouble coping and i certainly feel for her and want to do whatever i can to help in whatever small way i can.

This is why it is soo nice to have such great folks here on pnet to help those of us who need help in whatever situation we are in!!

Great advice - i didn’t even think about her needing some extra warmth either.

Live and Learn!!

Adaptive paddling is a great equalizer
I am sure that you will have fun tomorrow but you both will be able to figure out that the outfitting needs to be secure yet not entrapping. In other words, you will want to make it more sophisticated.

By the word you I mean you and your friend. You now are a team. Balance is going to be a big challenge and you might want to make a rear outrigger. Push a spare paddle through the back deck rigging and inflate a paddle float at each end. This is a learning thing to help your friend gain confidence. As the balance improves, away go the outriggers.

With a little practice and team work , no one will be able to know that your friend is disabled. Kayaking is a great equalizer.

I would encourage you to contact the ACA for an Adaptive Paddling Workshop. You will be teamed with a disabled stranger who within a few hours will not be a stranger but will be a close friend. You will work together on outfitting and rescues in the pool, building trust. Its a well worthwile experience and will help both of you gain confidence.

The best kayaker I ever met was a functional quadriplegic. His drive and determination made him an outstanding boater.

family cancelled
Much to our disappointment, the family called this a.m. to cancel for today. We were all set and ready to go! Sadly our weather wont get any better than today - it is going to be a beautiful day here and Clare’s chance to go again this fall will probably not happen when we can all go for safety reasons. If by chance we still go this fall before the cold weather hits, i will let you all know how things went.

Thanks again for all your help!