'Power for All' paddles to health
Alex Thompson's life-long passion for kayaking has turned the dreams of disabled persons into reality.
And every summer the numbers of participants grows as Thompson shows them that there are no limits or impediments to anyone's abilities. There is always a solution to every problem.
Three years ago, Thompson started the Power for All Adventure Therapy Society, which offers paddling sessions every Saturday at Fort Langley's scenic and peaceful Bedford Channel.
"The first year we had 36 people, last year we had up to 90," says Thompson. "They're mostly adults, but we say it's for anyone from age nine to seniors."
There were 10 seniors participating last year, either recovering from injuries or suffering from arthritis or Parkinson's, and a couple were either deaf or blind.
Thompson rents or borrows kayaks and specialized equipment especially suited to a particular client's needs. For example, she has backboards and two sets of pontoons for the double kayaks, and if a paddler has only one arm she borrows a special kayak fitted with a one-armed paddle from the similar Power to Be society in Deep Cove.
"We don't have our own boats, we rent them from Evergreen Adventure Society, an extension of Fort Camping on Brae Island," says Thompson.
Fort Camping's proprietor, Stan Duckworth, "mentored me to create a society for disabled paddlers. For me it's very important that recreation is accessible to everyone, despite ability. When I started I found that no one would rent kayaks to disabled persons because of the high liability insurance. That needed to change, not say to people that 'you can't do that.'"
With Duckworth's guidance and encouragement she followed the examples of Power to Be in Deep Cove and Victoria in creating Power for All, and Duckworth also rents the society up to three double kayaks, eight single kayaks, a voyageur canoe and a number of single canoes.
This allows Thompson to offer a wide range of outings, tailored to each person's ability.
"We can fit eight to 12 people in the voyageur canoe, depending on their size. The sessions fluctuate quite a bit; if we take a group home out there may be eight to 12 persons in each session, and if they are single clients there may be four to six.
"We also have weekdays specials, because if we need to have therapists and physios present it has to be on their workdays."
The cost is only $35 for each client, to cover the costs of rentals and insurance. There is no paid staff as everyone, including Thompson, is a volunteer.
"Many of the participants can't afford to pay more, they're on limited incomes, so we fund raise for equipment," says Thompson.
Their "burger and beer" fund-raiser at Dublin Crossing on May 30 brought out 66 supporters who paid $20 each, and this along with a silent auction raised a total of $1,700 that night.
"This is enough to buy one piece of specialized equipment, either a set of pontoons or a one-arm paddle," said Thompson, adding hopefully, "But I'm looking around to see if I can get both at a used price."
Thompson has been working in community recreation since she was a high school teenager 16 years ago, supervising children's wading pools. She was working with Langley Township up until May 15 when she took a community service coordinator job at Surrey City.
"I loved to paddle, guiding hikes, that sort of thing. So I took training and went to school for my degrees."
Fraser Health recreation therapist Lindsay Dean has been supporting Power for All from the beginning, by sending clients to the outings, and is now a society director.
"She has collected questionnaires so that we know exactly what they like about the program," says Thompson.
"They look forward to it because they enjoy the sense of being in control. They are active, not depressed, and many of the clients also become volunteers."
Volunteers are the lifeblood of the program, and more are always welcome.
"Once able-bodied persons come out they will tell you stories about clients with different challenges. Once you're on the water you will hear Simon's story — he's been paddling since 1996 at Deep Cove and came to our program when we started Power for All closer to his home in Langley City.
"We have another client, Michael, who was in an accident that made him a quadriplegic — temporarily. He was told he would never walk again but he said, 'Yes, I will.' Now half his body is able and he's still working on the other half.
"By the end of one trip Michael said he was going to try to walk, and we said OK, two of us will help you. Instead two guys, volunteers who had never done this before, stepped up and helped him walk. All three of them had a few tears when he walked back; it was pretty cool."
This year the program will run from mid-July to the end of October at Bedford Channel, with two sessions every Saturday.
There will also be three ocean outings from Surrey's Elgin Park, timed to coincide with high tides in the summer.
Also new this year will be adaptive geocaching sessions.
Every session is dependent on the weather.
"If it's rainy and windy we don't go out because many of the clients are susceptible to hypothermia," says Thompson.
Thompson invites all interested persons to check out the society's website (http://powerforalladventuretherapysociety.com/) and to contact her via the email contact page if anyone wishes to participate or contribute to the program.