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Adaptive Sports On Display At Winding Trails

By Carl Wiser Staff Writer

  

FARMINGTON – Summit Adaptive Sports, a nonprofit based in New Hartford, showed off some of their new equipment at a demonstration held at Winding Trails on June 6. With help from Summit's volunteers, participants tried out bikes, hiking chairs, kayaks and paddle boards that have been specially modified for anyone who needs some help with these activities. For instance, the paddle boards have stabilizer floats so they won't tip over; the hiking chairs have a wheel in front and can be operated with levers.


Emily Landers receives a new custom fit bike from (L-R) Summit Adaptive Sports founder Karen Cook, Kathleen Weitz of The Hartford, and Huayara Garcia-Gomez of Move United. Photo by Carl Wiser

 

The equipment is expensive - Summit says adaptive athletes pay about 15 times more for equipment than non-adaptive athletes. They were able to buy this new gear with a $50,000 grant from The Hartford.

 

Karen Cook founded Summit in 2022 after running the adaptive program at Ski Sundown for 14 years. Her journey into adaptive sports was spurred by her son Jacob, who is autistic and loves to ski. "It's pretty much impossible for him to participate in team sports, so skiing is a way he can participate in a sport individually, but he's also a member of our race team," She says. "We create a group experience but it's at an individual level. There's a big smile on his face when he skis with his coach, Kyle. It's been great for him."

 

Summit started with winter sports but expanded in 2023 to offer year-round programs in hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding and disc golf. Summit provides equipment, hosts events, and trains a dedicated group of volunteers who accompany every participant. They're part of the Move United network, which oversees programs nationally and works with the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

 

Winter sports take place at Ski Sundown, water sports are at Collinsville Canoe & Kayak, and disc golf is at Brodie Park in New Hartford. Hiking events take place at various trails in the area, including Topsmead State Forest and Sessions Woods. Mountain biking is just getting off the ground because they needed equipment first. Says Cook, "Our hope is that the mountain bike park proposed for Lawton Road in Canton gets approved and built and we can potentially use that as a home base, especially for teaching beginners."

 

 

A Surprise Gift

 

At the event, Kathleen Weitz of The Hartford surprised Emily Landers, a para-athlete from Granby who participates in long-distance cycling, with the gift of a custom-fit handcycle. Landers suffered a spinal cord injury in 1996 when she was living in Alabama. "When you're lying in that hospital bed after a spinal cord injury, being an athlete is the last thing on your mind," she says. "You don't even know how you're going to get to the bathroom to brush your teeth. Eventually learning how to navigate through the community and become part of an adaptive program is amazing."

 

In 1997, her doctor gave her the OK to try adaptive sports, so she took up tennis at a  Paralympic training site. After moving to Connecticut, she tried skiing and got so good, she became a sit-ski instructor. She also took up biking and kayaking.

 

"It's a very humbling experience going from being an athlete without adaptive needs to an athlete with adaptive needs," she says. "You're used to water skiing behind a boat without a problem, you're used to going to tennis courts without a wheelchair, you're used to putting on your favorite pair of sneakers and going for a run on the trail. Things are different now. You have to plan ahead. We have to make sure we have chaperones when we're on the water and make sure we have special equipment that costs a ton of money."

 

"Being on the trail on my bicycle is an experience like no other," she adds. "Right before my spinal cord injury, I had just gotten a brand new bike - I was so pumped. Literally the day of my injury I had just taken it mountain biking for the first time. I cut down a giant drop just to feel the wind through my hair, the adrenaline. Now I ride on a different set of wheels. To be able to get back in the saddle of a bike is amazing. I feel the wind in my hair, maybe a couple of bugs in the teeth, but it's all worth it."

 

Emily says the benefits of adaptive sports go far beyond the physical. "Keeping those endorphins active in your brain is so helpful. Getting the cardio workouts is so helpful. And there's also the mental aspect. Staying active with an amazing group like Summit Adaptive, it's not just getting on a piece of equipment, it's the social aspect. It's so much more than just a handcycle, just a kayak. Summit Adaptive has embraced me like a family, and I'm so grateful."

 

To learn more about Summit Adaptive Sports, including how to participate or volunteer, go to summitadaptive.org.


Danielle Cirrotti on an adaptive bike ride with Scott Roderick, Lead Mountain Bike Coach at Summit. Photo by Carl Wiser

This adaptive bike is power assisted - with a Turbo Boost! Photo by Carl Wiser
Karen Mann in an adaptive kayak with support floats. Photo by Carl Wiser
Sean Stenglein in an adaptive hiking chair assisted by Michael Hills. Photo by Carl Wiser
Jennifer Kane in an adaptive bike assisted by Summit volunteer Lisa Totz. Photo by Carl Wiser
Emily Landers on an adaptive paddle board with Summit volunteer Emma Czaikowski. Submitted Photo

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