Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Four Paragolfers Make Golfing in the Boston Area More Accessible

Paragolfers in use at Leo J.Martin Memorial Golf Course.
Today was a brisk fall day at the end of the golfing season but that didn't stop 10 golfers with disabilities from playing at Leo J. Martin Memorial Golf Course in Weston, Massachusetts.

Golf professional and adaptive instructor from Spaulding Adaptive Sports Center Rick Johnson was in his element coaching his Back Into The Swing program on its final outing of the season.

I found the golfers bundled up against the breeze playing in three distinct groups. Three of the golfers were using Paragolfers to play - an all terrain wheelchair that assists the user into a standing position to swing. The other golfers were making use of conventional golf carts to traverse the long course and had a variety of disabilities.

Jerry Donovan and Jeff Whelpley stand up to play.
"I've been able to play golf twice a week thanks to these machines! It's awesome! It's been a Godsend!!" exclaimed Jeff Whelpley. "This is the best thing that has happened to me since my accident!"

Jeff is a tall man who volunteered at Loon Mountain's adaptive downhill ski program for four years - "one of the best things I'd done in my life." The day of his accident he informed me, he was supposed to go golfing, but switched to motocross racing instead and ended up "wrapped around a tree". Like many adaptive golfers, he was a serious golfer prior to his accident.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation purchased four Paragolfers this year for the two golf courses managed by the state agency. This innovative vehicle has transformed the lives of those who have discovered it. Two are kept at Leo J. Martin and the other two reside at Ponkapoag Golf Course in Canton. Now golfers with spinal cord injuries or who otherwise cannot walk or stand, can play golf in the greater Boston area.

Rick Johnson applauds excellent progress.
"Two Paragolfers at each course is a gift from above," said Rick Johnson. "I'm sure this hasn't happened anywhere else. Now these guys are playing twice a week and organizing a tournament on November 8th."

One of the other guys, Steve Kuketz, achieved a hole-in-one this summer on this course using the Paragolfer. He told me today his next hole-in-one is not long off.

Steve and Jeff are the main organizers for the 2016 New England Regional Championship, an event hosted by the newly formed Massachusetts Para-Golfers Association (MPGA), The event starts at 11 am on Tuesday, November 8 and costs $25. Over 20 people are already signed up. For further information, contact 508-889-7581 or 781-217-8170. "Anyone with a disability is welcome and can play", said Steve.

For more information on the Back Into The Swing Program, contact Spaulding Adaptive Sports Center at 877-976-7272. They offer indoor instruction over the winter while dreaming of spring.

Friday, October 21, 2016

New Visitor Center at Walden Pond

Walden Pond is well known as the former haunt of famous American literary figure Henry David Thoreau. Once upon a time it was a rural area where Henry left the stresses of town life to live for 2 years, 2 months and 2 days during the mid-19th century in a simple one room cabin of his own creation. Nowadays, though one cannot fully escape the sounds of traffic in the forested area, Walden Pond State Reservation still offers beauty and tranquility to over 275,000 visitors per year, who come from all over the world for a grand mix of history, recreation, education and appreciation of Henry David Thoreau's native voice. A replica of Henry's cabin next to the parking lot offers visitors the chance to experience the space he built for under $30 in his day, with a statue of him nearby. Trails in the park can take you to the original cabin site, which is a celebrated national landmark.

A brand new visitor center is opening this fall at Walden Pond State Reservation in Concord, Massachusetts. I stopped in recently to find both the bathrooms and the Thoreau Society gift shop open in a stunningly beautiful and accessible new building. The exhibit area is still being worked on and is not open yet, but the park was well-attended by people checking out the building and walking the extensive beach created by the drought. A bald eagle was circling over the pond. Swimmers and paddlers were enjoying the sparkling water and peak autumn color. Walden Pond is a popular spot just outside of Boston that truly offers something enjoyable for everyone.

The terrain at Walden is challenging for full physical accessibility but many people with disabilities can enjoy some of  the beach and trails. The toughest spot in the main area of public use is the hill down to the swimming beach which can be walked or rolled on via a wide paved path. The beach can be accessed by car from the boat launch which has a small gravel and dirt parking area with some designated more accessible spots. Traversing the parking lot to the beach involves a gradual grade and some bumpiness over a short distance. The shoreline is hard packed for the most part and likely a relatively easy walking surface for many. The park has beach wheelchairs which require someone to push that are for use on the beach.

Park staff have also introduced a trails wheelchair this year which can be self-propelled or pushed by others. The trails at Walden are generally well worn and wide on moderate terrain with some rocks, roots and steeper grades. While some people with disabilities may find these trails manageable, others are likely to require assistance and/or adaptive equipment. For further information, contact Walden Pond park staff at 978-369-3254.

Walden Pond State Reservation is managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). DCR's Universal Access Program offers adaptive hiking programs at various state parks and typically comes to Walden Pond once a year. For further information on adaptive hiking programs, contact DCR's Universal Access Program at 413-545-5758.