Among the nation's elite canoe and kayak racers in Oakland this April will be a new group of paddlers: accomplished athletes with physical or developmental disabilities.
Exhibition outrigger canoe races for adaptive paddling will take place on the final two days of the Olympic Team Trials for Flatwater Sprint Canoe and Kayak at Lake Merritt starting April 14th and continuing through the weekend. Separate from the Trials, although held on the same 500-meter course, the outrigger races are sponsored by the US Canoe Association, a nationwide recreation and competitive paddle sports organization.
The adaptive paddling teams are led by USCA Adaptive Paddling Chairman, Jan Whitaker, of Henrietta, NY. Her efforts are part of a growing movement in the United States and in other countries to provide sports opportunities for people of all abilities. Ms. Whitaker notes, "Outrigger canoeing is an excellent recreational, fitness and competitive team sport for people with and without physical and/or developmental disabilities. It allows paddlers to be recognized for their ability and not identified by their disability".
Paddlers with disabilities enjoy the same benefits of sport as able-bodied athletes. Their indomitable human spirit welcomes the challenges of training and competition as opportunities and seeks competition at every level. The racers' ultimate goal is to establish canoeing as an official sport in Paralympic Games (for athletes with physical disabilities) and Special Olympic (for athletes with developmental disabilities).
Kirk Bauer, Director of Disabled Sports USA, a member of the USOC, issued this statement: "I congratulate the US Canoe Association and meet organizers for the inclusion of athletes with disabilities in their events and programs. With its six and twelve person boats, Outrigger Canoeing is one of the most accessible sports around. It allows nondisabled and those with a variety of disabilities to compete in and enjoy this sport together. This combination makes it much easier for people with disabilities to participate."
Robert Pieters, President of Heritage Christian Services, an organization that has two teams of paddlers with developmental disabilities entered in the exhibition races, states," Outrigger canoeing empowers our paddlers spiritually, emotionally and physically and gives them self-confidence."
Rochester Rehabilitation Center's SportsNet paddlers will join other paddlers with disabilities from the east coast and across the US to compete in the Oakland races, just as the Olympic contenders are. The exhibition races are open to local paddlers. Those wishing to join a team should reserve a place in a boat by contacting Ms. Whitaker in advance at
The exhibition races are scheduled during the daily lunchtime break, Saturday and Sunday, April 17th through 18th. Spectators are admitted free. The best viewing area is on the northwest lawn of Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland.