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Transcription: Resilience Radio

Guest: Larry Knauer of Adaptive Adventures

Linda:  Hello and welcome to today’s episode of Resilience Radio where we explore the art and science of surviving in a turbulent world. I’m delighted to have with me Larry Knauer who is the director of sailing programs for Adaptive Adventures and I’ll let Larry tell us a little bit more about that. Welcome, Larry.

Larry: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Linda: I met Larry at a regatta down in Sarasota.  I had just been sailing and Larry was wearing a shirt that said Adaptive Adventures and I got curious and I asked him about it.  What he told me was so fascinating that I wanted to share it.  Larry, can you give us a little background about the sailing program and who your clients are and what kinds of services you offer.

Larry: I would be happy to. Thank you. We are focused on servicing people with physical and mobility limitations. That could be a variety of physical limitations. It can be anything from sight to amputees to other spinal injuries, etc. etc.  In serving those folks as well as or veteran community where the sailing program allows them to get out and tagline for Adaptive Adventures is Freedom through Mobility.  Our objective is to give these folks mobility freedom that they wouldn’t have otherwise. By getting them out on the water sailing with them and working them through a program that, if they so choose, gets them out on the water by themselves or with their families sailing as they chose to do so.

Linda: I remember you told me a little bit when we talked earlier about the boats that you use for this that really are well suited for this. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Larry:  Yes. The boats we selected for our program are the Windrider 17. They are a trimaran that is very rugged.  It’s a rotomolded Trimaran that has very good sailing characteristics. It sails very much like any other higher performing Trimaran.  It’s a good boat for providing a little bit of adrenalin for those that like to go fast and that’s kinda nice because everybody likes to get excited sometimes.  It’s a very stable boat and very difficult to get into trouble with. As you know sailing is one of the things that if you do something wrong you’ll likely get bit by it. If you can get the equipment to provide you with lots of protection from doing those wrong things it’s very helpful.  So the 17 is such a boat and its very capable. One of the nice things about the 17 is it’s a kayak style seating so its cavern seating and in the seating there is water pedals for use by your feet.  You have the main sheets and the jib sheet coming to the cockpit.  So you have very few controls to deal with and make it easy to train people to sail in a very rapid manner.  In addition, these boats we rigged specially and created a bunk class for Windrider called Windrider 17 AF.  We modified the boat to add hand steering as well and ability to move the sheets from the forward and aft cockpit back and forth so you can sail the boat fully from either the front cockpit or the back cockpit and you can hand off sailing at anytime from either cockpit. Also, those who have physical impairments, let’s say double amputee below the knee and can’t reach the water pedals with their legs and feet, they can use hand controls with the hand control router system that was installed in these boats as well as the sheets.  Then we obviously have the ability to make it easy for people with all sorts of physical impairments to operate the boat.  The nice thing about the deep dugout cockpit is that we can take a person with upper spinal injury that has no lateral support or minimal lateral support and place them in the boat, provide padding around them to hold them securely in place and they can go sail.  It’s really amazing when you take somebody like that in a wheelchair and put them into the cockpit and get them out on the water and watch them go sailing by and nobody on shore or in the boat next to them would know they had any physical impairment.  Then the final benefit, the reason we selected boats was of its high payload capacity.  The boat, it’s only a 450 pound boat approximately but it can carry 900 pounds of payload.  So we can put basically five adults on the boat which means we can easily put a captain for training purposes, we can put the client, the client’s spouse and their two kids and away they go.  That’s the other nice thing, is we want this to be a family experience not and individual one on one kind of experience.  So that was one of the other big benefits of this particular boat.  Lately, that has been recognized. The work we have done with Windrider for them to create the Windrider 17 AF, has resulted in their being asked to provide for the next Paralympics for potentially using this boat in the nonphysical class for single handed and duel handed racing at the Paralympics.

Linda: That’s really exciting.  Have you been involved yourself in designing some of the modifications?

Larry:  Yes.  Mark Nixon who is my partner, Robert Samberg who’s is the COO of Windrider and the tree of us basically collaborated on the various design changes that we felt would make it more usable for those with various physical disabilities. We continue to improve upon that regularly by changing different minor features but the boat has performed so well.  I think after four years now we’ve got a very easy to sail boat.

Linda: That’s really cool.  So tell me.  This is just one part of the whole Adaptive Adventures program. Can you tell me about the larger program?  How it got started and the history of the sailing program?

Larry:  Yes.  I would encourage folks to check out the Adaptive Adventure website.   All the details are in there and I will kind of maybe talk a little bit about the two founders being Matt Finney and Joel Berman, both of whom were injured in accidents that caused injuries.  On the website, you can read about their experience and where they came from. Both became very successful businessmen. They were both avid outdoorsmen before their accidents.  That led them to opportunities to be together in ski a program I think it was.  I am not exactly sure on that.  They got together and in 1999 they decided that there was a need for a charitable organization to create more outdoor activities for people with mobility limitations.  Adaptive Adventures was formed at that time.  The primary focus at that time was on cycling programs, winter sport programs, skiing, and those kinds of things.  The organization had two primary locations, Chicago and Denver.  Since then they’ve grown the organization substantially, added a large number of sport activities, everything from scuba diving to rock climbing, white water rafting, kayaking, wakeboarding. Also some winter ski sports. In 2012 we brought the sailing program to them.

Linda: So you started there in Denver, is that right?

Larry: That’s correct. We started the sailing program in Denver back in 2012.

Linda: And you’ve now spun one off to Ohio. Is that what I remember correctly?

Larry: That’s correct.  Yes.  We started off in Denver with five boats that we purchased from Windrider and the program was very, very successful right from the onslaught. We decided that we were exploring it purely as an interested in serving our military and Wounded Warriors and veterans.  It became quickly obvious that we could do so much more and with that Mark Nixon and I linked up with Adaptive Adventures because of their ready client base and the great training they have for working with people with mobility limitations that could be applied to a sailing program.  It allowed up to focus on the sailing side and the development of the sailing side and they have focused on how to support the folks with the mobility limitations.

Linda: When we were talking before this call you told me a story about how you got involved in this.  There was something about your wife being involved in it, right?

Larry:  Yes.  My wife Patty and I were traveling back to Ohio to visit my mother and in Sandusky, Ohio there is a very large veteran’s home, Ohio Veteran’s Home.  We were driving by that one day and my wife leaned over and said to me, “When you retire, I’d like to get involved with some sort of program for our veterans and disabled veterans”.  So we kind of headed home to Denver from there. On the flight home, I was thinking about what she had said.  I had three things that I wanted to do in retirement which was teach flying, teach sailing and teach swimming.  Having taught so many people with physical impairments when I was in college, it was so rewarding I felt like that was a great fit.  When we got home I knew Mark Nixon had been the dealer for Windrider so I started checking into what it would take for us to get a hold of some boats and get a program started.  Low and behold next thing I know we’re ordering five boats from Windrider and getting the program going in Denver.

Linda:  That’s great.  That’s a wonderful story.  Now you mentioned some of the different kinds of challenges and disabilities your clients are dealing with. You talk about everything from amputations and spinal injuries and so on. What kind of age range do you deal with?  Do you have a typical client?

Larry:  There is no typical client.  That’s one of the fun and challenging things about working this program.  Everybody’s injury is different. Even though two people may have amputee injuries, how they are physically dealing with those, what’s comfortable for them may be totally different.  Each client has a little different perspective and we try to work very closely with each one.  We find out what they are comfortable with. What works for them?  What doesn’t work? How do we make it as enjoyable of a process for them as possible?  We do deal with ages from 14 on up. We do some younger than that with parents participating in the program as well.

Linda: Tell me a little bit about how it works from a logistical standpoint.  What happens when somebody contacts you and says they want to get out there?  How does it work?

Larry:  We have a website at Adaptive Adventures.  On that website is a program schedule.  You can go on the website to notified of various program schedules and to track program schedules.  Then you can click on the days that you would like to participate and sign up to come out and participate in whatever the program is, whether its rock climbing or sailing.  It’s a very simple process. It’s easy to follow what’s going on and look for opportunities to get out and do things.  I can’t emphasize how easy it is for folks to get involved either as a client or as a volunteer.

Linda: Talk a little bit about the volunteer.  You mentioned the role of a captain.  So, you’ve got somebody who’s…What’s somebody’s learning is basically driving the boat, right?

Larry:  That’s correct yes. We have several levels of volunteers. Level may not be right terms but jobs that…

Linda: Different kind of roles.

Larry:  Exactly. The captain’s really primarily participating in the early introductory sailing and initially learn to sail kinds of activities.  We do have U.S. Sail instructors that have been through the adaptive sailing program at the U.S. Sail that provide oversight and provide lessons learned and how to operate and to work with folks with various physical disabilities in the boats and those kinds of things. We also have shore support for registering people when they show up, getting them lined up to which boat they are going to go into and those kinds of things. They do kind of a pre-assessment with them before we get them to the boat, to say okay how’s the best way to help you get onto the boat. What works for you, what doesn’t work for you?  Here are some things we’ve done. Does that work for you?  We can do this and give them different options to look at how they get on the boat and get themselves situated to go out and go sailing.  So that is another group of folks that help get them registered and another group that help get them pre-assessed and ready to get onto the boat.  The folks that are doing the assessment have been through some training with the Adaptive Adventure folks that have a very good program on understanding how to work with people with various disabilities and help them discover their best ways to help themselves or to get help getting in and out of the watercraft.

Linda: That’s neat.  So, is this mostly a get people out to sail or do you train people to go out on their own or do they go racing?  What kinds of sailing do people do in this?

Larry: We’ve been developing a group over the last four years. We started out basically as a come out and go sailing and see what sailings about.  That was our initial roll out.  We had a plan and we have executed on that plan over the last four years basically that takes a person from a go sailing and see what sailings all about to working through the USA sailing checklist with them.  To get them comfortable with the skills that they need to be able to sail for those who are interested in doing that. We have clients that just want to go for a ride. They don’t really want to do anything more than that.  We have clients that then want to learn to sail.  So, we provide them that opportunity to learn to sail. Last year we introduced a more regular racing program in Denver where folks could come out and race on the sailing race course for example. Then we get the person to that kind of level and they want to go out on their own, we can check off and they have met the competencies and comfortable then we can let them go out on their own or with their family. Then there are programs for those who want to take it further. We have a good working relationship with Community Sailing in Colorado for example that operates our Cherry Creek Reservoir.  They have funded programs, ones the clients pay for as well as scholarship funded program for going up another level in sailing proficiencies and starting to work toward various certifications that you can get as well.  That’s kind of the partnership relationship we have with various other organizations.  We will bring people up to the level that they are comfortable with and applying the direction that they want to go, whether its just fun sailing and they wanna go find a boat that they can get their hands on and go fun sailing or if they want to get more serious and get into competition and who knows.  Maybe participate in the Paralympics in the future.

Linda:  That would be exciting to see some of your folks competing now but I really like the idea that people can get out there with their families.  I would imagine that for some folks it really frees them up from their kind of earthbound physically limited situation and what’s been just get out and enjoy.

Larry: It’s great to see the families out there together and we have had some mother’s come back in tears they are so happy to see their son or daughter out just laughing and giggling and having a great time on our boats.  So yeah, it’s exciting to get those folks out and give them that opportunity.

Linda: One of the things that I am particularly interested in because of resilience has been my focus is – what kind of results you see?  Do you find that people are able to increase their well-being and sort of increase their ability to deal with the world more effectively through something like this?

Larry:  Yeah.  We issue that across the whole of the Adaptive Sports.  We really see it in the sailing program on a regular basis. It’s freeing for them to be out and basically be able to scoot along the water at 10, 12, 13 knots in a sailboat. That’s one of the nice things about the 17 is that it does go fast for a small boat.  That brings out certain things in people that challenges them and they come back with a new sense of accomplishment.  So, I have seen those things happen and it kept them coming back multiple times and then eventually saying I really wanna learn to do this.  Then taking off in that regard and being able to go out on their own or go out with their family is exciting.  We have had all sorts of very positive results and comments. One that touches my heart personally, last summer we had a 99 year young WWII veteran that we took out sailing.  He was just wheelchair bound and so we had to help him get in and out of the boat. He was just grinning from ear to ear the whole time we were out sailing and flashing back a thumbs up sign multiple times as he was zipping along in the sailboat.  We get him back to shore and he just elated and told some of the folks on shore this is the best day he has had in years and how much he enjoyed going out.  About two months later he passes and we get a wonderful letter from his family thanking us for taking their dad out sailing and how much he loved it and what a great memory it was for him.  Just those kinds of things make it all worthwhile. The generosity we have gotten from the sailing community and others, both volunteers and financial support have made it able for us to offer these programs at essentially no cost to the participants.  Obviously, once a participant wants to get more involved and go for the certifications there are costs associated with that.  The introduction to sailing, learn to sail and early sailing program there is zero cost to our clients at this time.  We make this as easy for folks to get out on the water as possible.

Linda:  That’s really cool. Are there other programs like yours that you are aware of in other parts of the U.S. or in the world?

Larry:  Yes. There are a number of really good programs. As a matter of fact, I saw a video recently from South Africa on a group that was doing a very similar program in South Africa using again the WindRiders boats. There are a number of other boats out there that people use and a number of other racing class boats for those who really want to get for more technical racing. There are more complicated, more technical boats that people can get into and sail.  There a very large training program in the Texas/Houston area, Galveston I think it might be where they have a large adaptive training program. That’s where we send our instructors down for their certification on the adaptive sailing.  So, there are programs all over the country doing different things, providing different opportunities for folks. I encourage folks to look in their local area and check it out.

Linda: That’s wonderful.  I have been sailing for a while and as I think about resilience, I think about all the different kinds of adversities that people can face.  Physical disabilities have got to be one of the most frustrating, especially some of the lingering ones.  You know the spinal injuries and so on.  So, I think about the emotional factor of that and just the sense of freedom that sailing can provide. As you were talking earlier about some of the things that you give, I’m getting tears in my eyes about the freedom and the sense of movement and the sense of wind in your face that people can get.  You talked about people with visual impairments and I was thinking there really is a lot of sailing that you don’t need to be able to see for.  Can you tell me a little bit about how somebody with a visual impairment might participate in this?

Larry: Yes.  It’s amazing what people with visual impairments can do.  If you give them the opportunity and a little bit of coaching, I visuallysual impaired snow skiers coming down the mountain.  I see them in kayaks and we have them out in the sailboats.  It’s interesting that their senses are so heightened that once we show them the basics and they get the feel for the boat, all the captain really is doing is providing and/or their caregiver or special person in their life, is providing them visual cues on hazards.  Such as other boats or things that they have to worry about in the water that they can’t physically see or sense.  As far as sailing the boat their senses are so heightened that they can feel the acceleration of the boat, they can feel the wind; they can feel how the boat reacts. Very quickly they learn what the right angle on the boat needs to be for the speed they want to go the and direction they want to go. It’s fun to watch and see how quickly those folks pick up sailing and take off literally.  The smiles that come back on their face are just so exciting.

Linda: That’s really neat. So is there anything that I have asked you about that you would like to make sure that people are aware of?

Larry: No, I just want to thank all the folks who have made this possible through WindRider, through Adaptive Adventures and through the sailing communities that we are working with, the Sandusky Sailing Club, Colorado Sailing Yacht Club, Community Sailing of Colorado, Community Sailing of Sandusky. For all their support and help, organizations that provide volunteers. It’s amazing the amount of generosity we have and people who are willing to get out there and support if given the opportunity and its great to be a part of that and make that happen and I thank again everybody for their support.

Linda: That’s really neat.  It really does take a village right?  It’s the whole community of people that are involved.  You had mentioned that the best place for people to find information about the program is on your website.  Now what I’ve got is Is that correct?

Larry: That’s correct. Yes.

Linda: Okay cool. I’m really pleased that you took the time to talk with me today. I’m sure that people will be just really interested in hearing about this program and I thank you very much for taking the time.

Larry: Thanks for having me on and we look forward to servicing people around the country with their needs.

Linda: Absolutely.  Thank you all for those of you who have been listening.  This is Resilience Radio and we hope you will tune in for the next episode. Thanks a lot. Bye-Bye.