Any Boat, Any Body

Published Friday, June 5, 2009

In 2005 Rob Mallinson was involved in an accident that left him as a paraplegic. Overnight Rob’s life was altered as he learned to adjust to his new reality. Rob describes his first thoughts as “big shock and disbelief.”

After spending four months mending broken bones and a variety of other injuries at VGH Rob was transferred to the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre where he spent five months learning to get used to his body. “When I first started doing rehab it was very strange because it was almost like sitting on one of those exercise balls; with the injury that I have the weight of my head, the placement of my arms, any of those movements would cause me to fall over. It was quite the experience learning to cope with the injury but I wrapped my head around where I was at and what I had to accept and deal with.” The support of the staff at GF Strong was an important aspect of Rob learning to see the possibilities in life with a spinal cord injury, including sports.

Back at home Rick looked for sports in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows but “was having troubles finding local recreation to do with a wheelchair because most of it is out in Vancouver.” Then Rob ran into Rick Hammer and his life turned a new page.

Rick Hammer is the founder and Commodore of the Pitt Meadows Paddling Club. Rick is passionate and committed to his goal of make the paddling experience available to any person who wants to try it. Rick’s motto is “any boat, any body”. Rick invited Rob to come out and try paddling.

Rob went to the club, which is located on the southwest shore of the Alouette River at the Harris Road Bridge, and tried paddling an outrigger. An outrigger is a flotation device attached to the side of the boat that acts as a stabilizer. Rob had never paddled before and was “a little nervous but I found it really tranquil out there along the dyke. We saw a beaver and I found it to be a real calm and nice experience. I was hooked.” Rob says that you should try it “if you like fresh air, exercise, and wild life. I found it quite invigorating.”

On June 13 the Pitt Meadows Paddling Club is hosting a Community Challenge Dragon Boat Race. Rick hopes that people come out to try paddling for themselves and experience what hooked Rob after just one try.

The race is a fundraiser to help support the club’s paddling program for people with disabilities by helping to pay for specialized equipment. Rick has been working hard to make the program accessible to all but funding is necessary for equipment that allows for the adaptations necessary for people with disabilities. Rob, who is able to use his arms but whose spinal cord injury affects him from mid-chest down needs “something soft to sit on to keep from getting pressure sores and some sort of core stability”. Rob requires a stabilizer to keep his core stable while in the boat because “I have no abs so paddling could actually pull me out of the boat”. Rick supplies this stabilizer for Rob and other paddlers.

The event on June 13 has a cost of $20 per person. Each team gets specialized training and a practice session, as well as three races on June 13.

The Pitt Meadows Paddling Club will also be involved in this July’s 2009 Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows BC Disability Games.

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