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Setting sail on Kids Day

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Enjoying the moment



Kids demonstrate spirit while sailing, hiking 

By David Chow

The breeze was just right and the sun was shining. The waves were swift, but light. It was indeed the perfect day to go sailing.

After two hours of sailboat preparation, plus tent and barbeque set-up, staff and volunteers eagerly awaited the first rush of children for the Disabled Sailing Association (DSA) Kids Day event at Jericho Sailing Centre in Vancouver. This is the fourth year for the event, which takes place in July and again in August.

The day was a coordinated effort between DSA and the British Columbia Mobility Opportunities Society (BCMOS). During Kids Days, children get to hike or sail in the morning, and then, following a barbeque lunch, switch activities in the afternoon. The combination of sailing and hiking presents a wonderful experience, promoting, encouraging, and enabling children with disabilities to become engaged and active members of the community.

DSA's Kids Day is about "getting kids out to environments that their wheelchairs are not accessible to," said Vanessa Esteves, Program Coordinator for BCMOS.

"We do a combination of hiking around the Jericho Beach area, along with sailing at Jericho beach," she said. "Basically it's a social day for kids and an awareness day that we have. We have Kids TrailRiders, as well as sailboats that are accessible to children."

During the hiking portion of Kids Day, kids use the TrailRider, a hiking mobility device likened to a rickshaw that affords unprecedented access to wilderness environments for people with physical disabilities.

During the sailing portion, kids develop a sense of freedom and independence," said DSA sailing instructor Emily Major. She said kids "experience something on the water that they ordinarily would not be able to do without this program."

With the help of the Martin 16, a specially designed sailboat that features a high lift keel, adjustable seating, and specialized control systems that make the boat both stable and responsive, both children and adults with disabilities are able to enjoy what the waters have to offer.

Eleven-year-old Emily Anderson, an active and enthusiastic participant, was on hand for her second Kids Day adventure. Emily has already been sailing for three years and has even participated in DSA organized competitive regattas.

"It was fun," Emily said as she came back from the shore to mingle with the other kids. She said she enjoyed "being out in the water and seeing all the birds." Emily's mom believes sailing provides a different point of view for Emily, who has a mobility disability. "You don't need to use your legs when you are sailing," her mom said.

The camaraderie, friendships and the scenery keep Emily coming back to the water. Learning about water conditions, trimming the sails and interacting with DSA volunteers give Emily skills that enable her to become a full member of the community.

Learning, however, is reciprocal. Staff and volunteers are able to see first-hand what kids with disabilities can achieve. Seeing children cooperate and support one another while hiking and sailing teaches adults, says Herb Ressor, a long-time volunteer of DSA and Emily's sailing partner. Herb spends many hours volunteering for DSA. He noted he "can't think of anything that makes a day more worthwhile and more fulfilling than helping others."

Being on the water with kids gives Herb the opportunity to interact with them at a different level and see a different perspective. While they are out on the water, "They are free," Herb says. "They say goodbye to their caregivers and goodbye to their wheelchairs."

Like Emily and Herb, other kids and volunteers, as well as staff and parents, share similar sentiments on the event.

Participant Ivan Wangasaputra enjoyed both activities, although he gave a slight edge to hiking due to the sheer relaxation of the hike. High school student Yan Qing volunteered last year and had so much fun that she recruited her friend Angela Cao to volunteer with her this year.

Ivan was initially skeptical of the TrailRider, but he quickly found that it was comfortable and accessible. When he jumped into the Martin 16 for the sailing adventure, he showed no evidence of first-time jitters.

Along with their assistance in transferring the sailboats from the boat to the water, Yan and Angela provided the kids with encouragement and moral support.

Sailing provides kids the opportunity to enjoy the water, the views, the wind and a true feeling of adventure. The associated freedom and independence that the kids experience make the event all the more worthwhile. DSA and BCMOS staff also experience a reward for their labours - laughter and smiles on the faces of kids, volunteers, staff, and parents.

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