It’s hard to imagine a greater joy than seeing a kid smile, especially when that child faces life challenges that limit their activities. Those prideful toothy grins are just the reaction volunteers at events for special-needs children yearn to see, when these kids have accomplished something they thought they could never do.
Across the country there are organizations to help children in need to meet personal and developmental goals. The more specific the goal, the more specific the equipment needs to be, and when Dreams For Kids decided to host Extreme Recess, an event which includes waterskiing as one of their therapeutic activities, they knew they needed some expert advice, instructors with special skills, and a lot of volunteers.
Recently, BoatUS Trailering had an opportunity to attend an Extreme Recess in Lorton, Virginia, to meet some of the participants, volunteers, and organizers. Sam Massa is a safety director for USA Water Ski, a professional firefighter, and a volunteer watersports coach for the event. He shared his insights on what it takes to have a successful and stress-free day on the water.
Can you tell me about the participants?
Sam: Some kids have severe physical disabilities and can’t walk or talk. Some are blind. Others can’t understand instructions, or can’t hear. Most all of them are scared at first, but they all have fun.
What special techniques are used for teaching waterskiing?
Sam: The key to it for the physically disabled child is the specially made sit-ski provided by On the Edge Foundation. The participant is situated in the seat on the dock, and then loaded into the water with helpers on either side. The ski rope is attached to the ski itself, and a short rope (without any tension) and handle is used, too. When skiing, there are trained waterskiers on either side of the participant, who are there to stabilize by linking arms to the chair. All three skiers are pulled at once. For children who are blind or who don’t have physical limitations, they ski by standing on my skis, or ski in between my legs on their own skis, so I can straddle and support them.
What safety techniques are used?
Sam: There are experienced volunteers who are expert skiers at the side of the participant at all times — we call it buddy skiing. Everyone wears a life jacket, and the ski and chair are padded. There is also a rescue swimmer in the towboat. The boat also has a really neat quick-release system for the towrope. If anything were to go wrong, the pin is pulled and the action stops immediately.
What is the most rewarding part?
Sam: It’s rewarding for me to see how scared some of these kids are at first but they really want to do it. Seeing their reaction and hearing the kids’ excitement as they ski down the lake is the huge motivator for me and the rest of the team. For every one of the kids, it’s obvious by their expressions how big of an accomplishment it is for them.
Want to learn more, or volunteer? Check out Dreams For Kids, www.DreamsforKids.org