Chasing the Dimpled Orb
Golf has come to Disabilityville. Thanks to adaptive golf carts — properly called “cars” in the industry — wheelers are now able to join the ranks of rock stars and pro athletes who have become golf fanatics. Today’s adaptive golf cars can traverse the entire course, including the greens. Tests show that adaptive golf car wheels do no damage to a well-drained green. On a pounds per square foot basis, adaptive golf cars exert less pressure than an average man’s footprint.
Danny Baker, 51, from Coffeen, Ill., was an avid golfer before sustaining a spinal cord injury at the T12 level 15 years ago. “Lying in the hospital bed, paralyzed, I had three questions,” says Baker. “Will I be able to walk? Will I be able to have sex? And will I be able to play golf? Now my wife and I have a 10-year-old son and I play more golf than I ever did. Two out of three ain’t bad.”
Adaptive golf has been good to Baker. He’s a sales rep for SoloRider adaptive golf cars, teaches and gives golf clinics, coaches the local high school golf team and is a sought-after adaptive golf teacher and guru. When Baker hits the ball, he uses the electric tilt seat on his SoloRider and swings with two hands from either a sitting or semi-crouching position. A good stand-up golfer can hit the ball about 260 yards on a drive. Baker is able to drive it about 220 yards from his Solorider swivel seat. His handicap — average number of strokes over par — for 18 holes is a very respectable 12, but on a good day, he shoots par. “For me, golf is a great social opportunity. For however many hours I’m playing, I’m out of my chair, part of a group, swapping stories, swapping business cards, I’m just another golfer. Teaching and coaching golf and getting adaptive golf cars in more golf courses all comes down to my passion to enable more people with disabilities to enjoy the game I love so much,” he says.
Baker explains that in addition to adaptive golf cars, he is trying to get golf courses to offer rental of adaptive golf clubs with clubheads that form a greater angle with the shaft to accommodate a flatter swing, and a club-like tool that enables the golfer to tee up the ball from a sitting position, and Velcro gloves for those with limited hand grip.
Jerry Donovan, 47-year-old T6 para from Boston, Mass., was more of a hockey player than a golfer when he was hurt. “For the first seven years I was injured I was in a fog.” He says he saw a ParaMobile golf car that raises the golfer into a full standing position at an Abilities Expo. “I gave golf a try, and all of a sudden I found something I really liked. I got excited about it, started playing, the fog cleared and I’ve become really independent,” he says. “I always wanted to just be normal, and what’s more normal than going out golfing with your friends? When I’m golfing, I play at the same speed as an average walking golfer. Standing is where it’s at. My back pain goes away, I breathe better, I feel better, my circulation is better, it just feels great. I feel better and more rested after a round of golf than I do after a nap.”
Donovan hits his one-handed drives around 165 yards, but it is a straight 165 yards — he uses his other hand for stabilization. With the stand-up capability, he chips and putts with both hands.
Although there is a long way to go, more and more public golf courses are purchasing adaptive golf cars. The U.S. military just purchased two adaptive cars for each of its 174 courses, most of which are open to the public.
Price-wise, green fees at a public course average between $35-$45 for 18 holes and half that for nine holes. Lessons cost about $40-$50 per hour, and when you get hooked, a complete set of clubs will set you back between $500-$700.
Adaptive golf cars are expensive — Soloriders cost about $9,000 and the ParaMobilile runs $19,000 — but with recent court rulings, pressure from adaptive golfers, and potential for boosting golf course revenue, more and more golf course owners are purchasing them to add to their rental fleet, which makes golf not only accessible but affordable.
♦ Adaptive Golf Foundation of America, 888/364-3524; www.agfofamerica.org
♦ Golf Xpress, 989/846-6255; www.golfxpress.com
♦ ParaMobile, 888/321-2794; Legsdontwork.com
♦ ParaMobile, 603/860-7891; www.uwillstandup.com
♦ Model Tee, 530/268-6813; www.usagpi.com
♦ SoloRider, 800/898-3353; www.solorider.com
Cranking for Health and Fun
From a gentle ride around the neighborhood or local bike trail to hard core touring and racing, handcycling renews the feeling of freedom that kids feel the first time they master riding a two-wheeler.
For Rick Mason, handcycling combines recreation with keeping fit and healthy. Mason, 50, from Davis, Calif., is going on his 32nd year as a C6-7 quad. He’s the director of adaptive cycling for Access Leisure, part of the city of Sacramento’s parks and recreation department. The program offers handcycle instruction, rides and use of handcycles at no cost.
“When I first started handcycling, I would go maybe three miles and I was wasted. Now I try to ride at least 10 miles a day. Last year I rode 4,000 miles, including the Midnight Sun, a 265-mile, five-day race from Fairbanks to Anchorage, Alaska,” he says. “I love it because it’s fun, it’s a great cardio workout and I can do it solo, or with friends and family.”
Mason rides a Top End XLT handcycle. With no hand movement, he uses V-shaped hand peddles and wears football lineman gloves with ridges on the back that help keep his hands in place, yet still allow movement to hit the “rapid fire” shifter/brake combination. He says the toughest thing about handcycling as a quad is becoming able to do independent transfers — which he has conquered. He says for easier transfers it helps to wheel the handcycle up a ramp next to the chair, so both seats are on the same level.
Most adaptive programs offer handcycling. For those that get the bug, handcycle prices average around $3,000, and good used handcycles can be found for half that price.
For those who long to get off the beaten path, the One-Off Flyer is the first true hand-peddle mountain bike. With 30 speeds, rear-wheel drive and disc brakes, riding the One-Off enables wheelers to go places they only dreamed of. While the gearing enables people in less than stellar shape to ride off-road, decent grip is needed for gear shifting.
Jake O’Connor, 30, from Canon City, Colo., is going on his sixth year as a T11-12 para. O’Connor test rode a One-Off three years ago and liked it so much he bought it on the spot. “During the summer I ride every day on the trails around Crested Butte. I get together with other One-Off riders and we do trails, mountain passes, ride down to the river to go fishing and just go mountain biking to places I would never be able to get to in my chair.”
Check the One-Off website for adaptive programs that offer riding and rentals. Purchase price is $5,600.
♦ Bike On; bike-on.com
♦ Freedom Ryder Handcycles; 800/800-5828; www.freedomryder.com
♦ One-Off Handcycles, 413/634-5591; www.oneoffhandcycle.com
♦ Top End Handcycles; 800/532-8677; www.topendwheelchair.com
♦ Quickie Handcycles; Sunrise Medical, www.sunrisemedical.com
♦ U.S. Handcycling; 303/459-4159; www.ushf.org
The Other Sailing
From drifting over pavement in a gentle zephyr to a high-wind, high-speed rush across the playa, land sailing is all about pure adrenaline.
Joe Bohl, 55, from Reno, Nev., has been a T4 para for 23 years. Bohl is arguably the father of adaptive land sailing. “They are easy to modify,” he says. “My first one, I just attached some PVC tubing to the front wheel and made a long steering arm. From there I had a friend weld a steering arm on — it works great, even when I’m smokin’ along at 40 knots, flying on one wheel in the middle of the Black Rock desert in Nevada.”
Land sailors are strapped into the rig, so if it tips, you are protected. It is easy to steer, and flying along a few inches above the ground, a blast to sail. “The thing I love about land sailing is the chair has nothing to do with it. When you sail up to another land sailor, they can’t tell if you use a chair or not. Plus, it is amazing to sail and camp out in places like the Black Rock desert in Nevada.” The boat that Bohl sails is a Manta Twin land sailor. You can find them used for reasonably cheap. New, out the door with all the cool stuff, they go for around $2,700.
For those that don’t have access to desert or dry lake beds, the BloKart land sailor is a great option. It breaks down to fit in a suitcase, and someone with good hand dexterity can set it up in about 10 minutes. It can be sailed on concrete, sand, dirt, and can even be outfitted with runners for sailing on ice. A group of sailors, including some with disabilities, sailed BloKarts across the Gobi desert.
Paul Speight, 53, from Denver, Colo., owner of Spokes ‘n Motion, is a BloKart dealer. Speight, a T5-6 para for 33 years, is an avid BloKart sailor. “All you need is an open space, a bit of wind, and you are set for an afternoon of fun,” he says. BloKarts come with hand steering, so no modification is required — just unpack, strap in and ride the wind. New BloKarts go for $2,700.
Exploring the Aquasphere
Nearly 75 percent of our planet is covered with water — and scuba diving offers the opportunity to become a weightless aquanaut, exploring inner space, controlling your depth with your breath, your direction with a gentle movement of your arms.
Dr. Tom Millington, a hyperbaric and dive medicine specialist from Camarillo, Calif., says each individual should consult with a physician trained in diving medicine before starting with a disability. But in general, he has seen C5 quadriplegics become certified divers and dive safely with properly trained dive partners.
In November 2006, Matt Johnston, 29, from Woodbury, Minn., expanded the paradigm of possibility when he became the first vent-dependent quadriplegic to scuba dive in the ocean. Johnston has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and has been on a ventilator round the clock for the past 11 years. Since the age of 6, he has dreamed of scuba diving. At 27, he decided it was time to make that dream a reality and started doing research on the Internet, making phone calls to universities with dive programs and trying to find a way to realize his dream. “I ran into people who told me ‘no way this is possible,’ but I met more people that said ‘yes, this is possible’ — those are the people I chose to work with.”
In the summer of 2004 Johnston contacted Michael Lombardi, an expert in scientific and commercial diving. “From a technical standpoint I knew it could be done,” says Lombardi, “but I was concerned about liability. After getting to know Matt and his family, I realized that this really was a dream and that liability wouldn’t be an issue.” The first problem was getting Johnston back in the water – and the first hurdle was keeping his trachea tube dry. Diving Unlimited International made a drysuit with a custom watertight fitting to connect the air hose to his trachea tube. Next, they tracked down a ventilator that could handle the pressure that diving required.
A team of divers and physicians worked with Johnston for the next two years — first getting him used to being in the water in a pool. They worked out “eye” signals for communication. At first his maximum immersion time was less than a minute in the pool. They slowly built the underwater time to 50 minutes at 5 feet.
Finally Johnston and the team were ready for the ocean. In November 2006 he made his first dive in Tavernier Key in Florida. The entire trip was a challenge. Just being on a boat for the first time was a big deal. But it worked. Johnston was able to make a successful dive to 5 feet in the ocean for 20 minutes. “The dive was awesome!” he says. “Being weightless in another world. The best part of the dive was when a big barracuda came right up to me!” In addition to completing the dive, Johnston earned a unique honor, being a certified diver through Scuba Diving International.
He is planning more dives this summer, seeing if he can go deeper, and is busy writing a dive manual that will enable other vent-dependent quads to dive. On top of all this, he stays busy giving presentations to kids, demonstrating that it’s really true that anything is possible.
♦ Handicapped Scuba Association, Jim and Pat Gatacre, 949/498-4540; www.hsascuba.com
♦ Ventilator dependent quad scuba diver Matthew Johnston, Diving a Dream, Oceans of Opportunity, www.divingadream.org and www.scubadivingdream.com
Wind + H20 = Freedom
For others, harnessing the wind on a sailboat is the way to explore this watery planet.
Paul Callahan, 49, from Cape Corral, Fla., is the CEO of Shake-A-Leg adaptive sailing program in Newport, R.I. Callahan has been a C4-5 quad for 27 years. He had never sailed before his injury. While on vacation in 1994, a chance meeting introduced him to the Shake-A-Leg sailing program and he gave it a try. “It was the first thing I had done in the 15 years since my injury where I felt I was doing it on my own, and disability didn’t figure into the picture,” he says. “From there I became possessed with sailing.” As a helmsman, he has steered his team’s Sonar sailboat to race for the U.S. in the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, and recently placed second in the world disabled sailing championships.
“Depending on your point of view, sailing either ruined my life or saved it. If I hadn’t found sailing, I would be a rich, burnt-out, retired asset manager. Instead, through sailing, I have a family, kids, and a job, and a passion that brings me endless joy and satisfaction,” he says. “Sailing became an outlet, a passion and a platform of newfound independence. And it continues to be that way. I find the sailing community completely open and inviting to the disability community and happy to help in any way they can.”
Terry LeBlanc, 55, a C4-5 quad for 30 years, also discovered sailing in 1994 — at the Jericho Sailing Club in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. LeBlanc’s arm movement is extremely limited. He was one of the first sailors to take advantage of the new sip ‘n puff sail system — where the sailor controls the sails and the rudder through a sip ‘n puff system and a bite switch. You bite to move the control switch to the sails, sip to pull the sail in, puff to let the sail out, bite again for the rudder, and sip for port or puff for starboard.
“That first time sailing was amazing,” says LeBlanc. “I realized that I could go anywhere I wanted by harnessing the power of the wind. Since then I’ve sailed in quite a few regattas. I try and get out and sail on Wednesdays for fun, and Sundays are race days,” he says. “The sip ‘n puff gives me a competitive outlet, and it lets me compete on the same level as anybody else, walking or wheeling.”
The sip ‘n puff system can be adapted to almost any kind of sailboat. And quite a few have been sold in the U.S. Check the resource list for a link to the sailing clubs that have sip ‘n puff systems on their boats. Cost for the system is approximately $6,300.
♦ Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors, 415/28100212; www.baads.org
♦ Disabled Sailing Association of British Columbia, 604/688-6464; www.disabilityfoundation.org/dsa
♦ Shake-A-Leg, 401/849-8898; www.shakealeg.org
♦ Sip ‘N Puff sailing info, 403/870-7210; www.martin16.com(click on Pwr-Assist System)
Some think the ultimate thrill on the water comes from surfing. Riding waves allows tapping in to the raw power and energy of the ocean, and adaptive surfing opens this exciting sport to the wheeling world.
Ann Yoshida, 30, from Oahu, Hawaii, has been a T6 para for eight years. Yoshida surfed for 12 years before her injury, then tried surfing on her own, but it didn’t work very well and she didn’t like it. So she hooked up with Access Hawaii’s adaptive surf program. At first she tried tandem surfing — using a 12-foot board with an instructor paddling on the back — and she caught some waves and started to get the hang of it.
“After the success of the tandem board, I tried it on my own with an adaptive board with pads to hold my legs in place. Now I’ve progressed to where I can ride a regular long board. I strap my legs together and it works great,” she says. “I know the lifeguards, and they’re happy to help me down to the water and back out. I also have some great friends who help me out. These days I surf four times a week, and every time I go out I progress, tweak my ability and get better.”
Mark Marble, president and CEO of AccessSurf Hawaii, says a two-hour session costs $80, which covers the equipment and the instructor. “We teach both lay down surfing and sit down, wave-ski surfing,” he says. “If you have some balance and trunk support, the wave ski will be a better way to go. If you don’t have good trunk support, lay down surfing is the way to go.”
When students progress from tandem to a single-person board, an instructor will give them a push to help them catch the wave and help them learn about leaning to turn the board and stay on the best part of the wave. At the end of the ride, an instructor will turn them around and help them back out. Students wear life vests, and they must be water safe — be able to keep their heads above water with a life vest — under their own power. Adaptive surfboards have pads to keep your legs in place, other pads — if needed — to get your upper body farther up on the board and hand straps for people with limited hand movement.
Jarred Evans, 28, from Huntington Beach, Calif., a C6 quad, was a surfer before he was injured four years ago. “About a month after I got out of the hospital, I tried surfing on my old long foam board with my cousin and my best friend, but it didn’t work,” he says. “My hands would get ripped off the board and I would go down. Then I went out with Life Rolls On and tried out one of Jesse Billauer’s adaptive boards. Once I got the Billauer board, things really started to click. I was able to set a rail and ride the wave. It made a world of difference. It’s a great feeling.”
These days Evans goes out surfing about once a week. When he surfs, he has two friends help him out through the surf, and then they push him into the wave.
Travis Tremble, founder of Wheels2Water, also in Huntington Beach, says, “If somebody comes to us, we find a way to get them in the water.” Wheels2Water waives the cost for gear and instruction and relies on donations to keep their program going.
Once hooked on surfing, a custom adaptive board will set you back about $1,200-$1,500.
The world of adaptive recreation is always expanding, allowing us to push our limits. This is just a glimpse of the adaptive recreation opportunities that exist. The way to get involved is to simply give one of them a try. Like the physics saying goes: objects at rest stay at rest; objects in motion stay in motion. Now, with summer in full swing, it’s time to get in motion and find your recreation passion.
♦ Access Leisure Sacramento; 916/808-2340; www.accessleisuresac.org
♦ Crested Butte Adaptive Sports Center, 866/349-2296; www.adaptivesports.org
♦ Disabled Sports USA Far West, 530/581-4161; www.dsusafw.org
Adaptive Cushions (especially important for recreation)
♦ Aspen Seating, 866/781-1633; www.aspenseating.com
♦ Jay Protector, Sunrise Medical, 800/333-4000; www.sunrisemedical.com
♦ The ROHO Group, 800/851-3449; www.therohogroup.com
♦ Vicair AllRounder, The Comfort Company, 800/564-9248; www.comfortcompany.com
The Carrot and the Stick
The availability of adaptive recreation of all kinds is poised to flourish. To help make it happen, either a carrot or stick approach, or both, can be employed. For instance, in January of this year, a federal judge ruled that all Marriott golf courses must provide adaptive golf cars to comply with “reasonable accommodation” as defined by the ADA. This stick-like ruling has the potential to be applied to adaptive recreation equipment in many other venues, including your favorite recreation pastime.
On the carrot side, the adaptive golf industry sets a great example for showing how adaptive equipment makes good sense — and dollars! Tom Durbin, vice president of sales for SoloRider, explains a study that SoloRider did showing the financial benefits of providing adaptive golf cars. The study added up numbers of people with mobility-related disabilities who wanted to play golf, including aging “baby boomers” who had dropped out of the game due to age-related mobility problems. The sum was 300,000 golfers, and that number is growing by around 75,000 a year.
Assuming a 20-week-golf season, a potential of $720 million of additional revenue ($60,000 for each of the 12,000 public access golf courses in the U.S.) is possible by simply providing accessible golf cars. The study further showed that the average golfer with a disability brings three friends to the course — the ski industry found the same thing.
Adding in three friends per adaptive golfer, course revenue is capable of expanding exponentially. “When we show this to golf courses, we often hear ‘but we never get a request for adaptive golf carts.’ This is where the power of the disability community can help. If everybody with a disability who wants to play golf would contact their local golf course and ask for an adaptive cart, golf courses are more likely to purchase them,” says Durbin. “When you look at the expense that courses have already laid out for ramps, accessible restrooms and parking, the adaptive golf car is the one piece of ADA adaptation that will generate income.”
The same financial logic can be applied to almost any adaptive recreation opportunity.
If you have an interest in a sport or recreation, call your local outfitter, rental agency, or department of parks and recreation and tell them. By requesting specific adaptive equipment, you will set up a triple-win situation. Businesses and agencies will get more income, they will comply with the ADA, and those of us with disabilities will get the convenience, health benefits and fun of getting back in the game, whatever it may be.