SHEFFIELD — A first in the county, LoCo Yaks is offering adaptive kayaking equipment.
Thanks to grants from the Ohio Department of National Resources and Western Reserve Land Conservancy and a private donation, the Lorain-based paddlesport organization will be able to accommodate kayakers with an array of needs, including those in wheelchairs or with limited use of their limbs or missing limbs.
Stephanee Moore Koscho and her husband, Robb Koscho, spent Saturday afternoon with their friend Megan Hammond, of Lakewood, demonstrating the new equipment at the Backpackers Shop in Sheffield.
“We’re American Canoe Association-certified instructors and in 2015 they had their first-ever adaptive paddling summit,” Robb Koscho explained. “They brought in people in business, people that make products for the adaptive sports world, people that are occupational therapists and stuff of that nature. Once I saw it I was very, very motivated, and Stephanee and I knew exactly what we wanted to do, and it’s taken some time.”
To qualify for the ODNR grant, which paid for two of the kayaks including a tandem model (Western Reserve bought one kayak), LoCo Yaks will offer eight adaptive classes over the next two years. They are able to take up to three people for each class; for those 18 and younger, a parent or guardian would need to be present.
To participate — if someone has not paddled with LoCo Yaks before — attendees must be able to demonstrate several simple, safety-conscious tasks, including being able to hold their breath underwater for a period of time and the ability to roll themselves over in a pool from a face-down position. From there, the adaptations a person needs is customized for them. The second session is a group trip to a body of water those in the class agree on.
“The kayaking part of it’s not really different, as far as the skills,” Stephanee Moore Koscho said of becoming an endorsed instructor. “It’s more about making sure the kayak fits the person and can hold them properly if they need extra back support to hold them up or if they need help with the paddle and some kind of adaptation ... whatever the case may be to get them comfortable in the boat.”
Hammond demonstrated using a transfer table to get in and out of the kayak with little assistance. A board with a handle and seat allows her to slide herself out of her wheelchair and into the kayak; the only assistance she needs with the seat is to move part of it out of the way for her to slide into the kayak. Then the kayak is pushed into the water.
Without the specialized equipment, Hammond said, kayakers could use foam to help provide support, but the process takes a lot longer to get ready.
Growing up boating with her family, Hammond said she had her first adaptive paddling workshop about seven years ago and knew being able to move herself in her own boat was what she wanted to do. Using any opportunity to do it, she said the equipment LoCo Yaks now offers is amazing.
“Being out on the water, you don’t know — depending on the adaptations — you don’t know who has a disability and who doesn’t,” she said. “So for me to get out there, not in my wheelchair and people don’t know I use my wheelchair, it’s just a great, freeing feeling. I feel normal in my wheelchair, since it’s who I am, but it’s a different sense of normal.”
Moore Koscho said classes are $165 for two sessions, though they are looking for other support to help attendees cover the cost. Stephanee and Robb are both certified in the program by the American Canoe Association, a national nonprofit focusing on paddlesport education.
For more information on LoCo Yaks and their adaptive paddling program, email email@example.com or call (440) 308-7296.