Independence on the Water - My Adaptive Kayaking Experience

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on November 09, 2021 # Quality of Life, Adaptive Sports, Lifestyle

Adaptive Kayak By guest blogger Ali Ingersoll

A life with paralysis entails much more than meets the eye at first glance. There are a whole host of secondary complications many of us who are wheelchair users can attest to, myself included, as a C6 quadriplegic. However, this does not stop so many of us from continuing to live our lives to the best of our ability and participating in a community, albeit in an adapted capacity.

It’s one thing to find a job, take care of our bodies, and navigate a system in society that is not yet fully integrated with respect to accessibility. It is quite another, however, to find incredible non-profit organizations around the country whose sole mission is to enrich the lives of those with physical mobility impairments so that those of us with disabilities can enjoy, not just trying to survive our lives, but thrive as well. One such non-profit organization called Bridge2Sports in North Carolina has made it their mission to assist people with physical disabilities to participate in an array of accessible and adaptive sports such as wheelchair basketball, Boccia, hand cycling, kayaking, archery, air rifle, goalball, and golf.

It is organizations like these that allow many of us with disabilities to feel connected, build community, and enjoy physical sports despite our physical mobility limitations. The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation offers Quality of Life Grants to organizations such as Bridge2Sports to enrich our lives beyond our daily responsibilities.

Ali and friend getting ready for their adaptive kayak tripAs a Reeve Ambassador, I work with organizations in North Carolina that receive the Quality of Life Grants to assist them in community building, partnerships, outreach, and so much more. It has been my distinct pleasure to get to know Ashley Thomas, founder of Bridge2Sports, who was recently awarded a Quality of Life Grant from the Reeve Foundation. I really wanted to showcase what this incredible organization has to offer by joining their team for a day of kayaking to shed light on the incredible work this organization is doing in helping to build community and fostering inclusivity in the disability community through adaptive sports.

I had not been kayaking in 11 years since my spinal cord injury. I called up Ashley and she, and several of her staff were kind enough to accompany me for a day on the water. Naturally, I was a little bit nervous as to how I was going to get into the kayak as a quadriplegic, but they have spent years working with the City to build an accessible boat ramp, adaptive equipment to transfer into the kayaks, and created a fleet of accessible kayaks for individuals with varying degrees of physical mobility impairments.

I was accompanied by my husband and caregiver, who did a fantastic job of lifting me into the kayak while Ashley and her team instructed me on how to use the limited upper body movement I have, while strapping my hands onto the kayak paddle, to paddle the kayak independently with safety outriggers, so I did not tip over!

Ali and friend in their kayaksThe feeling of freedom encompassed every ounce of my soul when I took that first paddle on my own. Admittedly, I thought I was going to be in a tandem kayak with someone paddling in the back, but they assured me I was going to be able to kayak independently. I definitely did that! I had also assumed that we were just going to paddle around for 30 minutes or so, but we managed to kayak for nearly an hour and a half around Crabtree Lake in Mooresville, North Carolina. About 45 minutes into my adventure, I did not think my arms were going to be able to continue on, but with the encouragement and wonderful conversation from everyone around me, I persevered. By the end of our kayak adventure, I was utterly exhausted, but the best kind of exhaustion you could imagine!

It is organizations like Bridge2Sports that offer wheelchair users the ability to regain their independence and freedom that make living with paralysis a little less daunting. Organizations like the Reeve Foundation also strive to identify these incredibly deserving non-profits for Quality of Life Grants that make adaptive sports possible for individuals with physical disabilities. My hats off to both organizations for a fantastic day and many more to come in the spring when kayaking commences again!

Ali Ingersoll is a day trader, consultant, disability advocate, writer, blogger, editor, and public speaker. She started her advocacy mission after being repeatedly denied medically necessary equipment by insurance companies over the last ten years. Ali's passion lies in coaching people with disabilities on how to improve their quality of life by teaching them how to self-advocate in order to live a life of independence, dignity, and grace.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.