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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Swimming and Paddle Boarding With Spinal Injuries

Extraordinary open water swims by individuals of all ages and abilities touch us all the time. Their efforts are absolutely inspirational. These people are unbelievable role models of dedication, focus and commitment.

And most often the supportive roles of selfless volunteers who are assisting their individuals are similarly motivational. But rarely has a group of individuals who are supportive of open water swimmers touched us as much as the visionary people of the Bacharach Rehabilitation Hospital, City of Upper Township and the Ocean City Swim Club. Through their ground-breaking Ocean City Swim Club / Bacharach Rehabilitation Hospital Swimming and Paddling Unified Team Program, what is possible is being realized by the most unlikely demographic groups.

"I have really been touched by how this program is taking on a life of it's own," explains Bruckner Chase, one of the program directors and nominees for the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year.

The program's nomination reads, "Ocean Swimming & Prone Paddleboarding for Athletes with Spinal Cord Injuries is creating transformative ocean experiences to positively impact the quality of life for those unwilling to accept being an observer. Bruckner Chase and Michelle Evans-Chase with Becky McGill, the Bacharach Rehabilitation Hospital, and the City of Upper Township enable the most unlikely athletes to discover a personal connection to the ocean. By helping those with spinal cord injuries learn how to move through the water and guiding open water prone paddleboarding and swimming sessions, disabled athletes are leaving their wheelchairs and physical limitations on the beach to explore opportunities on and in the water. For their vision to bring the open water to a previously land-locked group, for their innovation to make paddling safe for those with severe physical challenges, for the empowering feelings and opportunities, the Ocean City Swim Club / Bacharach Rehabilitation Hospital Swimming and Paddling Unified Team Program is a worthy nominee for the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year."

"[Our Swimming and Paddling Unified Team] has headed into the open water every Sunday during the summer, literally rain or shine. The most exciting outcome of this program is the impact we see on those who are just watching these guys in the water. We started in the pool over the winter, and the goal was to insure they were all swimmers first," explains Chase who had to overcome various practical problems to realize the potential for the program.

When Chase is talking about taking people of all ages and abilities in the ocean, it is nothing new. He does it all the time with his Ocean City Swim Club, Toa o le Tai, POW, and other programs that range from American Samoa to New Jersey and many places in between. But there is something very special about the people he first started to instruct in the pool and then take out to the ocean every Sunday.

The program is part guts and all vision on the part of both Chase and its participants.

"This is a perfect new addition to my goal of creating new watermen and waterwomen wherever I can find them. The City of Upper Township has been incredibly supportive supplying both EMT's to help us move participants into the water and a mat to cover the sand as they move into the water. Before we started this program, beach access mats were designed to get wheelchairs and the physically challenged ONTO the sand. No one seems to have ever considered that some of these individuals with spinal injuries might actually might want to keep going further [into the ocean]."

But individuals like Rebecca Guilbeaux wanted to go further even if she is paralyzed from the waist down. But under Chase's guidance, Guilbeaux is now able to feel that wonderful sense of movement as she breezes over the surface of the ocean on a paddle board in the bay near Upper Township, New Jersey. She explains, "Prone paddling equals everything out between people with disabilities and people without. It brings people together instead of separating them."

"You should see how they all enjoy how they enjoy moving on the ocean," Chase explains with pride. "But we just don't put them out in the ocean at once. We go through a very careful educational program utilizing appropriate safety protocols first."

Together with specialist Becky McGill, they have created a passionate group with ocean swimmers and paddlers both with and without physical challenges who love the opportunities and camaraderie that paddleboarding brings to them.

It is awesome to be on the water,” said Joannie Anastasi, a paddleboarder who has been paraplegic since birth.

"These guys continue to transcend anything they thought was a limit for them on the ocean," sums up Chase.

The nominees for the World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year includes a variety of products, services and concepts in the open water swimming world and are listed below:

1. 21 Yaks and A Speedo, Storytelling Life Lessons by Lewis Pugh (U.K.)
2. Amphibia Sports Ring, Simple Silicone Solution For Swimmers (Ireland)
3. Bold & Beautiful, A Pod by the Shore (Australia)
4. Driven, Documenting Distance and Dedication (U.S.A.)
5. FINIS Agility Paddles, Training Tools of the Trade (U.S.A.)
6. Global Open Water Swimming Conference, Culminating In Cork (Ireland)
7. International Ice Swimming Association, Cooling To The Extreme (South Africa)
8. Ocean-navi, Navigating Throughout The Pacific (Japan)
9. Ocean Swimming & Prone Paddleboarding for Athletes with Spinal Cord Injuries (U.S.A.)
10. Open Water Swimming Manual: An Expert's Survival Guide by Lynne Cox (U.S.A.)
11. Oru Kayak, Origami of the Open Water (U.S.A.)
12. Ouma Academy, Swimming The Sea (Tunisia)
13. Plastic Disclosure Project by Ocean Recovery Alliance (Hong Kong)
14. Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association, Far Forward Thinking In The Ocean (U.S.A.)
15. Swim Smooth, Styling Streamlined Swimming (Australia/U.K.)

Online voting takes place here.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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