Paddle On Lake Wailes Allows Disabled Residents to Paddle On
by James Coulter
Photos provided by James Coulter and Cindy Turner
Ignacio Arriaga is a local veteran and C6 paraplegic paralyzed from the chest down. Despite his disability, he was able to go onto the water of Lake Wailes during the inaugural Paddle On! Lake Wales.
While Arriaga was unable to go on a kayak or canoe, which he would have loved to do, he nevertheless was able to get into a special boat. Its seat was wide enough with a tall enough backrest that he could sit and remain stable with his chest strapped to hold himself.
“It was fun to get on the water,” he said. “The only thing I wanted was a pole. I wish I brought my fishing pole to get some fishing in.”
The aquatic event provided various aquatic activities for people with special needs and disabilities. However, even with adaptive equipment and gear available, not everyone was able to do everything.
“I was disappointed I could not get on a kayak, but that is no one’s fault,” he said. “You don’t know how to set up for somebody until you have someone who cannot get on it.”
He enjoyed many of these activities before his injury. However, post-injury, he and many other disabled veterans were not able to enjoy them as they used to. Thankfully, events such as this allow them to be able to enjoy these activities again.
“I am enjoying all of it,” he said. “I like it. It is good. It is fun to have disabled people out on the water. I like all our organizations get us disabled folk on the water, get out of the house.”
On Saturday, nearly a hundred people, both able-bodied and disabled, took to the waters of Lake Wailes by boat, kayak, canoe, or paddleboard for a day of aquatic fun.
The main event was a poker run with participants circumventing the lake for cards for a chance to obtain a winning hand. Most attendees took to the water by paddleboat, kayak, or canoe, while others took by foot by walking around the lake.
Various other activities were hosted on the water and the land, with attendees able to enjoy bounce houses, carnival games, food trucks, and even (foam) axe-throwing.
Tyler Hudson, owner of Crave Food Truck, decided to serve the event, not only for a chance to showcase his food, but also to assist a local event dedicated to a great cause.
“It seemed like a good cause with a beautiful day, so I wanted to come along and make people happy,” he said. “I think it is great, any way to help someone and get them out to do what they love is fantastic. I hope they are having a great day and are enjoying themselves on the water.”
The event was hosted by Removing the Barriers, a local non-profit organization dedicated to assisting people with special needs and disabilities, allowing them an opportunity to enjoy aquatic activities despite their disabilities.
Proceeds from the event will go toward Stirring Waters, an initiative to construct a water park specially designed to accommodate people with special needs and disabilities.
Bill Redmon, Founder of Breaking the Barriers, was pleased by the overall turnout of the event. Though he admitted it could have been bigger, he expects future events to be bigger and better.
“People with disabilities cannot afford to do things on our own. We will need to help them,” he said. “This [event] is not our end goal. Our end goal is to build the water park. And this is a stepping stone. And it has been a really good stepping stone.”
Redmon expects to break ground by the end of the year. Afterward, construction on the park will take between six to eight months to complete its first phase, which will include a splash pad and a sensory trail.
“We are working with a company [the Ohio-based Rain Drop] that wants to be a big international company who want to be the world leader with aquatic play,” he said. “And they have taken our project on to try and make their case to the world that they can do this, and we are excited to have them as a player.”
To learn more about Stirring Waters and the Breaking the Barriers Initiative, visit their website at: https://stirringwaters.world/