Saturday, June 25, 2011

Legendary Lifeguard - Leroy Colombo

Having spent the past week training new lifeguards to our program, I can't resist sharing here the amazing story of a deaf  lifeguard I came across in recent months.

Leroy Colombo was a well known resident of Galveston, Texas. Born in 1905 to Italian immigrants, Leroy contracted spinal meningitis at age 7 and lost his hearing and the use of his legs. His brothers helped him regain his ability to walk, apparently by dragging him in the alley behind their house and perhaps also with swimming lessons. Deemed "ineducable", he attended the Texas School for the Deaf  in Austin for six years -where he was rarely seen away from the pool, breaking records for speed and distance. He was also an avid surfer, one of the first in Galveston. By age 18 he qualified to become an official lifeguard by swimming for 3 hours continuously, though he had been been saving lives on the beach there since he was 12 years old! Leroy singularly dedicated himself to patrolling the beach and watching out for people. Over the course of his life he saved over 1000 lives both on land and in the water.

Some accounts refer to Leroy as deaf and mute, others say he could lip read well and speak clearly. When someone strayed too far from shore he was reported to have blown his whistle and beaten his chest vigorously to get the swimmer's attention. He was well known along the beach as a friendly guy with a sense of humor, according to Donald Mize who researched Leroy's life and recently convinced the city council to name a street after their legendary lifeguard.

Stories about Leroy's swimming and lifesaving feats were featured in the Galveston Daily News over his life though it also seems many of his rescues went unacknowledged. He was a superb long distance swimmer and won many endurance races. In 1927 he completed a 15 mile swim in the Gulf of Mexico in 11.5 hours - only his brother also finished, 3 hours behind Leroy - all the other swimmer dropped out due to muscle cramps and jellyfish stings. Leroy finished a 10 mile race with one hand in Mississippi River when his shoulder was dislocated after 8 miles. In perhaps his most dramatic rescue, he swam beneath burning oil to rescue two crewmen from a tugboat on fire.

In the last year of his life, at age 61, Leroy saved 38 people. After his death in 1974, the City of Galveston put up a plaque in his honor. Pictures of him can be found at the lifeguard stations along the beach he patrolled and there an annual fundraiser is named after him. The Texas School for the Deaf built a new swim center which now bears his name.

What a remarkable American hero - more people should know about Leroy Colombo!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Adaptive Recreation and Summer Fun is Here!

Summer has officially arrived! A broad spectrum of adaptive recreation opportunities is available throughout New England. Here's a sampling of just some of the fun you don't want to miss out on:

I have to toot our own program horn first: DCR's Universal Access Program is already in action with hiking this month. Our statewide trail outing program, facilitated by Stavros Outdoor Access, visits parks across Massachusetts from the coast to the Berkshires with plenty of educational themes and fun activities mixed in. Check the Summer Program page to the right in the sidebar to see when we'll be at a park near you! Sailing on the Charles River is underway daily with Community Boating. In July we'll be up and running everyday of the week with a program somewhere - kayaking, canoeing, cycling and rowing all take place on weekdays!

Next - Northeast Passage! Based in Durham, NH, this long-standing barrier-free recreation organization expands outward into Maine and Massachusetts as well as covering the ground in New Hampshire this summer. If you want to play golf, tennis, cycle, kayak, or waterski, give them a call. They also rent adaptive recreation gear for you to use on your own! Everyone who works there is a certified therapeutic recreation specialist so all the fun they provide comes with a great deal of expertise. Their full summer season culminates in September with a 100-mile ride through the White Mountains for those who seek an athletic challenge.

Accessible kayaking opportunities in the Boston area have taken a leap forward this year! Outdoor Recreation of Hopkinton with the help of Waypoint Adventure is offering adaptive programs at 2 new locations besides Hopkinton  - Spot Pond in Middlesex Fells Reservation and UMASS Boston. Check these out at their new website: Boating in Boston.

In the Pioneer Valley, a wonderful program has been gaining momentum on the Norwottuck Rail Trail for a few years now. All Out Adventures provides Cycling for Seniors! I glimpse this program in action while passing by and it is great to see people 60 years and older enjoying a wide variety of supportive bikes. AOA also offers Kayaking for Seniors. It's great to see more focused recreation activities available now for this age group!

A little bit of rain did not deter these hikers from a recent
exploration of Mt. Tom State Reservation in Holyoke!
And don't forget DCR's REC CONNECT program - if you live in Boston, Worcester, or Holyoke, and surrounding areas, we can help you meet your recreation dreams and goals and build your skills in a wide variety of activities. Check out our facebook page linked above to see what's going on and give Heidi a call at 413-577-3840 to find out more! We are looking for mentors, volunteers, and more people who just want to have fun! We also need your input: What activity would you like to see us turn into an adaptive recreation program next? Please vote on the sidebar poll and talk to Heidi!

There's more - look around here and stay tuned!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Wheelchair Accessible Cape Cod!

Crosby Landing beach on the bayside of Nickerson State
Park. A beach wheelchair is available with advance notice.
Planning a visit to scenic Cape Cod? If you need wheelchair access in order to consider Massachusetts' premiere vacation destination, here's what you need to know!

Basic Services: You can cover a lot of planning basics with one stop on-line shopping on the Cape Cod Disability Access Directory (CCDAD). Details about ATMs, beaches, gas, health care, lodging, restaurants, theatre/cinema and transportation are covered for four distinct sections of the Cape.

Accessible camping at Nickerson State Park.
Camping:  Two state parks offer wheelchair accessible yurt camping - Nickerson State Park in Brewster and Shawme Crowell State Park in Sandwich - both are primarily inland forested parks, a nice reprieve from the hot sun. Yurts are built - in tents so no need to bring your own! They sleep either four or six people and feature beds, chairs and a table, with a deck outside and a raised fire circle with cooking grate. Nickerson features several freshwater ponds and a lot of shaded trails. The Cape Cod Rail Trail passes through at the front entrance. Nickerson also has a bay side beach that is quite lovely, and park staff will deliver a beach wheelchair if you like. The park is wildly popular with long lines to get in during the summer - don't plan to arrive without a reservation. If you prefer a quieter park, Shawme Crowell is a fantastic alternative, without ponds, trails or beach - a lovely base from which to explore outward. Reservations start six months in advance via Reserve America so its late in the game for this year, but always worth a check just in case, with availability most likely at Shawme Crowell.

Beaches: Many beaches feature beach wheelchairs from town beaches to the National Seashore. Use the CCDAD to look up beaches in towns you plan to visit.

Adaptive cycling along the Cape Cod Rail Trail.
Cycling: There are choices! The 22 mile long Cape Cod Rail Trail runs through six towns from Dennis to Wellfleet in the mid-Cape area. You can rent a DCR touring style handcycle at Rail Trail Bike and Blade in Brewster near Nickerson State Park. On the upper Cape, the Shining Sea Bikeway travels almost 11 miles through woodlands, salt marshes, and along the seashore between Falmouth and Woods Hole. In Provincetown, the outermost tip of the Cape, a 5 mile Provincelands Loop through the dunes offers a hilly ride with extensions to beaches. Bike paths are generally great for wheelchair jaunts too!

CAPEAble Adventures has 6 of these wheelchair accessible
tents available for their camping programs.

Adventures: I just met Craig Bautz of CAPEAble Adventures at DCR's annual Adaptive Recreation Fair in Boston last weekend. What a nice guy! And he's got toys! CAPEAble offers organized adaptive recreation activities including cycling, golf, kayaking, curling and kite flying. They work with the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Cape and Islands (RHCI) and put together a Wounded Warriors Project Weekend each September. Craig uses a wheelchair himself and lives on the Cape, so he is a great resource!

Cape Cod is becoming more accessible over time and that is a nice thing to be observing!