Adaptive rowing helps those with disabilities to stay active

The scenic Connecticut River awakens the inner outdoorsman in just about everyone, and there is plenty of fun to be had at the Riverfront Boathouse at Riverside Park.

It’s there that the Connecticut Adaptive Rowing Program is being held. People like Shellie Cyr and Joe Damon enjoy the challenge adaptive rowing presents.

“It gets you back to nature, you just enjoy being out on the river, also I learned a lot from other rowers,” Damon said.

Damon has a traumatic brain injury following a car crash overseas. Shellie has a spinal cord injury, also after an automobile accident.

“It’s a good exercise, it gets my blood flowing,” Cyr said. “I use different muscles rowing than I do sitting in a chair.”

“My problem is that I tend to do things too strenuously. That doesn’t help with rowing,” Damon said. “It’s more like technique than muscling it.”

Rowing as a sport for people with disabilities was something that Joan Karpuk at Mount Sinai Rehabilitation Hospital helped to conceive.

“I don’t think of it as therapy,” Karpuk said. “I don’t treat them as my patients when they are here. They are individuals who want to row, and they get out and row. And I have the same expectations as I would coaching individuals who don’t have disabilities.”

Pushing and pulling the oars enables Joe and Shellie to apply what they learn in physical therapy.

“It actually kind of pushes her to be more independent, because she has to get from her wheelchair down the dock, in and out of a shell and work on balance,” Karpuk said.

“It’s helping [Joe] with his coordination, his strength, in being able to get back into a competitive activity that he once enjoyed prior.”

Both are paired with able-bodied rowers in a program supported by Riverfront Recapture.

“We want to serve local people in the area, in all communities. That’s our goal as a non-profit, is to make it accessible to everybody,” Brian Wendry of the Recapture program said.

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