Tomorrow I'm entering my first outrigger canoeing race. I've been on the river several times this spring, and I really enjoy it. I'm pretty pleased with the program that SportsNet has here. They have it set up so that DAs can compete with ABs, so it's something I can do with my husband, which is great. It's not all about racing - often we just paddle leisurely on the river or the Erie canal. If there's a similar program near you, you might want to look into it, or maybe one could be started.

The race should be a lot of fun. Hoping for good weather!

Here's an article in the local paper about a few people I know who'll be in the race tomorrow.

Paddling their own canoes

By Gary Fallesen
Democrat and Chronicle

(June 13, 2002) -- Tammy Jopson had talked herself out of going to Boston to paddle in the 20th annual Run of the Charles canoe and kayak race in April. She had convinced herself that she could not canoe seven miles.

Jopson and fellow Rochesterian Xavier Major were about to make paddling history as the first physically disabled participants in an East Coast Outrigger Racing Association distance event. But first Jopson needed to face her fear factor.

''I just decided to go and do my best,'' says Jopson, who will compete Saturday in the sixth annual Rochester River Challenge. ''My goal was just to complete the race. I didn't care what place we came in.''

Jopson and Major, another veteran of 500-meter sprint racing in the River Challenge, are benefactors of the Rochester Rehabilitation Center's SportsNet outrigger canoe program. The goal of SportsNet is to put physically disabled athletes alongside able-bodied athletes.

Rochester was the first place in the world to offer outrigger canoeing to the disabled.

The embodiment of this 4-year-old program was Jopson, 42, and Major, 31, paddling across the Boston finish line in the same outrigger as able-bodied marathon canoe racers Dede Herlihy, 60, and Bob Pierson, 70.

''It's allowed me to get out and get some regular exercise,'' Major says about SportsNet. ''I don't get as much exercise as an able-bodied person.''

Major, a civil engineering technician, lost the use of his legs when he was shot 10 years ago. Jopson, a fourth-grade teacher's aide, had a leg amputated in 1994 after suffering from reflex sympathetic disease, a condition that caused her to lose feeling and control below the ankle.

''I've always been into sports,'' says Jopson, who was a swimmer and dancer. ''When I had my leg amputated I didn't think I'd be able to compete in anything. SportsNet has opened this up to me.''

The program has been steered by Jan Whitaker, 58, a world and national marathon-canoe champion from Henrietta who dreams of putting outrigger canoeing in the Paralympics. She has helped groups in Australia, England, France, Hong Kong and Italy start outrigger canoeing for the physically disabled.

She says athletes such as Jopson and Major are ''our best ambassadors to start similar programs'' in the United States.

''Every time we go to a new venue it proves something to the people in that community and the paddlers who are there.''

Jopson and Major showed their mettle to 1,600 paddlers at a rain-drenched Run of the Charles in Boston. High winds made it feel as if temperatures were in the 40s.

''This Hawaiian warm-water sport was made into an extreme northeastern sport,'' Whitaker jokes.

''That was pretty tough stuff there,'' says Major, who paddles in the River Challenge with the appropriately named Team Iceberg. In all, five teams will be integrated Saturday with physically able and disabled.

Jopson and Major were part of the only such team -- called The Pioneers -- at the Run of the Charles. That race began with canoeists in 10 outriggers paddling into the teeth of the cold, wind and rain. It took The Pioneers one hour, 34 minutes, 22 seconds to finish the race. They were 10th, about 24 minutes behind the winning team.

Neither Jopson nor Major had paddled for such a long period of time or so far.

''For the athletes themselves to really be able to go from sprints to something like that is like me going from a five-miler to a 70-miler,'' Whitaker says.

''It was such a personal victory for me,'' says Jopson. ''I overcame my fear of going -- and the weather and everything -- and finished the race.''

A link to the article: