The Children's Institute Blog

Kayaking and National PT Month

Posted: Oct 27, 2017 by The Children's Institute

Pittsburgher Ann Lapidus became blind 10 years ago due to medical complications but that hasn’t stopped her from tandem-biking or water-skiing. In August came a new activity: kayaking.

“I really enjoyed it,” Ann said. “It’s one of those things that could be really relaxing, like moseying down the river, or you could make it really physical. You choose the pace.”

Recently, Ann and her seeing partner, Jason Cade, trekked to The Children’s Institute’s heated, indoor pool to gain more experience with kayaks in a class provided through our partnership with Venture Outdoors. We are highlighting the adaptive kayaking program as part of National Physical Therapy Month.

For Venture Outdoors volunteer Trip Leader Joel Johnston, an American Canoe Association (ACA) certified kayak instructor, who coached Ann and Jason on paddling during a more than two-hour, one-on-one session Oct. 9, it’s a simple equation.

“There are so many great places to paddle in Pennsylvania, so many great rivers,” he said, “and we have just under a dozen ACA-certified kayaking instructors working with Venture Outdoors .”

Future adaptive kayaking sessions will be held on a Saturday morning in November, and then monthly from January through April. The classes aim to provide people with physical disabilities an opportunity to discover what outfitting is necessary to get them paddling comfortably in a kayak. More information is available on the activities calendar at (Interested volunteers also should contact the organization.)

Christy Neltner, a physical therapist at The Children’s Institute, has been leading adaptive kayaking programs like this one since taking part in an Adaptive Paddling Workshop at Bay Cliff Health Camp in Michigan and training with the ACA.

“Water is the ultimate equalizer,” Christy said. “In this program’s boats, you don’t know which people are the staff and which are the people with disabilities.”

Christy started fundraising for the adaptive kayaking program in 2010 and participants took part in a session for the first time in 2014. She says kayaks can be modified for those with physical limitations in various ways – outriggers can help a person with seizure disorders avoid tipping in the event of an incident, or pivot posts can be installed for people who need assistance gripping a paddle or doing repetitive motions.

“Sometimes, we get participants who’ve never been in a pool,” she said.

The level of difficulty for the workshop ranges from easy to advanced based on the ability of the participant, according to Venture Outdoors. Classes are limited to four participants and have a one-to-one or two-to-one Trip-Leader-to-participant ratio based on the participant’s needs. You must be at least 12 years old to participate.

For Joel, the classes are just the beginning. He hopes to see people with physical limitations attending Venture Outdoors public outings and Kayak Pittsburgh rental locations. With advanced notice, the organization can work with an individual to modify a kayak so they can participate on outings or rent a kayak.

“That’s kind of where we’re going with this,” Joel said. “The idea is not to have people segregated.”

From watching Ann get into her yellow kayak and paddle last week, you wouldn’t have had any idea she had physical limitations – and that’s the point.

“During the past five years or so, I’ve been getting into more stuff,” said Ann, who has enrolled in past activities through Western PA Blind Outdoor Leisure Development (BOLD) “I told Jason, ‘We have got to do this together!’”


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