Monday, January 25, 2010

Power Chairs on Ice - A new game emerges

Power chairs on ice made a second developmental debut in Revere today at the Cronin Rink. A small group of power chair users gathered to test their wheels on the ice and play a game of....power ball? Could it be that this was the first time such a game took place on ice using a fitness ball? Who knows?

By way of warmup, we practiced some maneuvers with a seven cone slalom down the center of the rink, then some 2 lap races around the line of cones. Socializing, spinning and gliding intermingled with these more serious endeavors. I warmed up my fingers trying to make the stopwatch work, but competitive timed events fell by the wayside once we noticed that six people in powerchairs could create two teams of three.

While public skating went on at the rink's circumference, the interior was defined with long bolsters and two nets. After some consideration, it was determined that a coin toss was the best way to start the game. Once started, the game took on a life of its own and everyone soon forgot about time.

For Nick, only 5 1/2 months into life in a power chair, this was the best day he'd experienced since his injury. Barry and John, both using sip-and-puff technology to propel their chairs, were able to enjoy the game at the same pace as those using toggle switches, though they didn't always have as much control. Tom, ever a fan of sliding on the ice in his power chair, found the game interaction especially fun. It was Richard's first time on ice, and with a mid-wheel drive chair with a lot of pep, he had great control of the ball and was the first one to score a goal. John, the rink manager, relished the chance to use an extra power chair brought by Tom.

As I skated around taking photos, I observed the game to be like a slow motion form of power soccer. People were naturally sensitive about their chairs, especially without any protection, such as the guards around the front of the chair that are used in power soccer.

The fitness ball met the needs of the players well. When they lightly collided with it between them, it absorbed the impact and gently pushed them apart. The ball took some abuse and held up without incident. Occasionally a group of four would sandwich the ball, making for interesting interaction to see who would move so the ball would come free. The ball moved smoothly on the ice but didn't travel far when pushed, so it was easy to keep up with and carry forward. The ice added that random tricky element, as people sometimes got caught with spinning wheels in a slick spot. Otherwise, thanks to John's careful zamboni work before we played, traction was mostly good with the different chair models, especially in the slower speeds.

Power chairs on ice will take place again on Tuesday, February 23 at the Cronin Rink at 850 Revere Beach Parkway. For further information, contact Tom at or 413-545-5353.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Paralympics are Coming!

We always hear about the Olympics in mainstream media well before they arrive. For weeks, coverage of Olympic events dominates evening television. Unless we are paying careful attention, the Paralympics might slip by unnoticed, especially since they are separated from the Olympics and follow behind them at the Olympics venue. Dedicated Paralympic fans get their news online and might take advantage of whatever tiny amount of television coverage takes place, usually after the games. You can click on the links in the sidebar here to find online coverage. The following is a little primer to get you started.

The Paralympics started in 1960 and have been going strong ever since. This year's Winter Paralympics are from March 21-21 in Vancouver and feature 5 main sports: alpine skiing, nordic skiing, sled hockey, wheelchair curling, and biathlon. Alpine events are the downhill, slalom, giant slalom, and super giant slalom, same as with the Olympics. Nordic skiing features races of different distances and the biathlon, into which shooting at targets is integrated. Skiers compete in three categories: standing, seated, and blind. Sled hockey, played on seated ice skates, is every bit as intense as conventional hockey. Wheelchair curling made its debut in the last Paralympics and is a fascinating competition of aim and technique.

While not all these sports take place in the outdoors, subsequent posts will delve into each one. The real stories are the athletes themselves of course. Each one has a unique journey to the Paralympics. Stephanie Victor, pictured above, is the force to be reckoned with in the downhill events and will give Laurie Stephens from Massachusetts some fierce competition. Stay tuned!

Remembering Burt, Appreciating Kevin

Burt Eddings loved the outdoors and gave much of his professional and personal time in the service of athletics and youth. He played sports, taught physical education, directed summer camps, including one for kids with mental disabilities, and bicycled with his son Kevin across the country at age 56.

I met Burt and Kevin later in Burt's life when he was already diagnosed with Lewy Body disease and could no longer speak. Kevin would spring him from the nursing home for a dose of fresh air. In a loving fashion he regularly brought his father to Universal Access programs for cycling and hiking each year. He made sure his father got to venture outside even after his mind and body failed him. I was always deeply touched by this dedication and the sight of them out on the trail.

Kevin assisted with programs beyond supporting his father at them, and continues to volunteer after Burt's death a few years ago. He carries on his father's tradition in many ways. Burt was a long-time advocate of all kinds of service programs. His love of the outdoors and sharing it with others was a gift that Kevin continues. Thanks Kevin!

Volunteers are an enormous help in providing the hands-on support needed to make accessible outdoor recreation opportunities possible for people with disabilities. Without them we could not provide the quality of service required for each individual who needs additional support. If you are interested in volunteering, email me at

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Now's the Time to Reserve Campsites - and Yurts!

Missing summer? Hankering for a little adventure? If you are considering camping this summer, now is the time to make reservations!If you are thinking that camping is a thing of the past for you, think again!

Camping has been made much more accessible in some Massachusetts State Parks with the use of yurts. These circular structures feature a door that locks, windows, a skylight, beds, table and chairs, ramped deck and electricity. Based on a portable structure from Mongolia, yurts have become a permanent and popular addition to camping in recent years.

Yurts come in two sizes - one that sleeps four and one that sleeps six people. This makes them great for families and small groups that want to camp but don't want to lug everything. They make an exceptionally convenient home away from home. Nightly fees run $30-$40 - more expensive then tent camping, but less expensive then a motel. You bring your sleeping bag, food, and other personal items and you are good to go!

In Massachusetts, the following parks have a few yurts in their campgrounds:

Cape Cod:

Otter River State Forest in Baldwinsville
Wells State Park in Sturbridge


Now's the time to reserve for summer camping! Reservations start 6 months from the date you want to camp. You might want to check availability online at or call them at 1-877-ICAMPMA or 1-877-422-6762.
A few other critical points for those with severe disabilities:

The electrical capacity at yurt sites is good for lights, but not recommended for life dependent equipment such as ventilators. Electricity is not guaranteed as power outages can occur anytime.
There is usually a water spigot on the campsite, but no running water inside the yurt.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Nancy Minton 1947-2009

Nancy Minton passed on from this world on November 28, 2009 and she will be sadly missed.

I remember her from the very first program I coordinated for Universal Access. She came to a rowing demonstration at Elwell in September of 1995. This year, she came out rowing several times, all the way into October despite the cold.

Though her severe MS prevented her from rowing or paddling or cycling herself, Nancy enjoyed these activities nonetheless with support from caregivers and program staff and the use of adaptive equipment.

To witness her coming down to the river to get out on the water time and time again over the years was an inspiration. Knowing she had a degree in Physical Education and was once highly active herself, I can only imagine her frustration at not being more independent with these activities. In the early days, we often attempted adaptations to help her get some motion and use from her limbs, but the disease prevailed and prevented her from gaining much self propulsion. Undaunted, she just kept coming, a testament to her spirit and the importance of being out in the elements and enjoying the great outdoors.

One of my favorite memories of Nancy is canoeing on the Connecticut River a few years back. It was a hot day, not good for those with MS, but Nancy didn't want to miss out on a day on the river. Usually she came out for an hour at a time, so this trip represented a deeper experience she needed. She showed up wearing a funny straw hat with a built-in battery-powered mister attached to the brim, lots of sunscreen, and her ready-to-go attitude. The trip was a long one from Elwell to Easthampton and by the end Nancy was so exhausted she could barely speak, yet she was thrilled at her accomplishment in being present for such an adventure.

Farewell Nancy. Your memory is with us on the river!

You can read another tribute to Nancy at