Recently paralyzed, Allyson Woodyatt, 9, from Exeter had never water skied but she didn’t let that – or her disability – stop her from trying something new. During an adaptive water ski clinic sponsored by Children’s Hospital Central California, she overcame her fear and decided to “go for it.”
“It was scary and awesome!” said a drenched Allyson, who goes by Ally, now back in her wheelchair and hungry for lunch provided on site.
Impressed with the clinic, Ally’s mom, Joanna Woodyatt, said, “This clinic is very good because Ally sees something else she can do, that she hasn’t lost everything – she can still get in the water.”
More than two dozen participants with medical conditions ranging from cerebral palsy to spinal cord injuries, and 50 volunteers turned out for the clinic held June 25 at Shredder Lake in Sanger. The event kicked off Children’s new Adaptive Sports Program that provides free recreational and athletic experiences for those with a disability while building their self-esteem and independence regardless if they’re a Children’s patient.
“Just seeing the excitement on these kids’ faces makes it all worthwhile,” said volunteer Steve Magil of Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, a Fresno-based company.
During the clinic, participants had the opportunity to ride a “sit ski” or wakeboard. Both were equipped with a seat and rigging to help with balance while providing an authentic water skiing experience. Some enjoyed riding on the jet ski or sitting in the speedboat. Although the rehab center has held three other water ski clinics during the past three years, this event marked the beginning of a formal program made possible with a $75,000 donation from Wells Fargo. As the program grows, the Hospital would like to add other adaptive activities such as snow skiing, power basketball, rock climbing and more.
“Today is a success in every aspect of our new adaptive sports program,” said Dr. Jennifer Crocker, medical director, Children’s pediatric rehabilitation center and program head as a young girl hugged her. “We’re excited to see so many participants and dedicated volunteers out here. The generous donation from Wells Fargo is directly responsible for how much we’ve been able to expand the water ski clinic. Now we can plan the next steps to build a real adaptive sports program.”
Participants enjoy a new experience
Slathered in sunblock while soaking up the warm temps, parents and children alike commented repeatedly how thankful they were for such an event – including Ally.
In February, Ally suddenly became ill and within a few days she became paralyzed up to her voice box. Pediatric specialties at Children’s who see Ally include neurology, genetics and the rehabilitation center. “She has improved so much at Children’s,” said Woodyatt, noting a diagnosis isn’t confirmed yet. “Now she has movement in her upper body and is just starting to get some slight movement in her legs.”
So when Randy Mack, a physical therapist, and Leah Rogers, an occupational therapist, at Children’s pediatric rehabilitation center who assisted at the adaptive water ski clinic encouraged Ally this was something she could do, “That made all the difference,” said Woodyatt. “She trusts them.”
J.D. Davis, 12, from Clovis began participating in athletics a few years ago, including power soccer and adaptive baseball. Diagnosed at age 2 with muscular dystrophy, he appreciated the “cool opportunity” to water ski. “I’ve never even been on a lake or a boat before,” said J.D. grinning after completing another run on the water. “Now I have.”
J.D.’s family knows the value of him taking part in as many activities as possible. “It’s nice to see him have access to the same kinds of things other kids do,” said Ketti Davis, J.D.’s mom, adding that her son receives pediatric care in pulmonology and cardiology for his condition at Children’s. “Now when his friends at school say they went to the lake he can say he did, too.”
“It’s great because it keeps him involved and is good for building his self-confidence,” said the boy’s dad, J. Davis.
Five-year-old Jordan Gifford of Fresno, who was born with multiple extremity deformities and had to have both legs amputated as a baby, easily summed up his first water ski experience: “It was very good!” His mother, Michelle, seemed to have as much fun watching him. “This is just wonderful,” she said. “He’s having such a great time!”
Desiree Vines, 19, a paraplegic and Children’s patient, who participates in adaptive gymnastics and dance, attended this latest clinic and previous ones as well. “It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s nice to be around people we can relate to and do fun things.”
For Gary Howery, 30, of Fresno, the experience was especially significant. Diagnosed with spina bifida, he has been involved in wheelchair athletics for the past 15 years but just learned how to swim last year. “This was my first time water skiing and initially I was very nervous,” said Howery, who underwent spine surgery and a shunt revision at Children’s years ago in the third grade. “It’s good to be diversified, to broaden my horizons that there are other things I can do. My friends want me to try sky diving next, but – we’ll see!”
Volunteers like giving back
Teenagers, executives, business owners, healthcare providers and more from throughout the area volunteered at the water ski clinic to make a difference in a child’s life. From assisting participants with the adaptive gear and providing needed supplies, to offering encouragement, they enjoyed just being able to help.
“It makes me feel like I’m doing something important,” said Kelsey Mott, 18, who volunteered with fellow Clovis High School graduates Shannon Ramsden and Chiara Nardocci.
Dr. Jonathan Caldwell, an emergency medicine physician at Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno, provided one of the two speedboats at the event. “I’m happy to get people wet!” he said as more participants began getting into his boat. “The more fun they have the better. Just seeing their smiles says it all.”
“What I like is that this event provides an opportunity for the kids to step away from their disability and be free,” said volunteer Christyn Costley, 23, of San Francisco.
Usually occupied with administrative duties, executives who volunteered from Children’s Hospital especially enjoyed working hand-in-hand with the participants.
“I never thought I could help in this way and it feels great,” said Sumesh Naicheril, organizational project manager at Children’s. “It just shows what people can do when people come up with a plan and put their minds to it – they made it happen.” Mike Gengozian, director, organizational project management office at Children’s, agreed, adding: “It’s work but you get paid back with smiles!”
“It’s an amazing event to be a part of,” said volunteer Vern Nielsen of ATG Rehab, a Children’s vendor from Visalia that donated adaptive water ski equipment.
The venue for the clinic couldn’t have been more ideal. Raymond Lynott provided use of his 55-acre private lake, Lake Shredder, along with a speedboat, ropes, etc., free of charge to Children’s. “We have the lake all to ourselves, which is great,” said Mack.
“We use the lake everyday and get a lot of enjoyment out of it so it’s nice to share it in this way with these kids,” said Lynott, who co-owns Lake Shredder with Dr. Byron Reintjes, a Fresno dentist.
Paul Lebby, PhD, a neuropsychologist at Children’s, who works with many rehabilitation patients, felt proud of the program’s progress: “This is what we’ve been working for.” Then, as he glanced at all of the activity taking place, he smiled: “Now we have a program.”
Children’s Adaptive Sports Program will hold an adaptive kayaking clinic on July 31 (location TBD) and another adaptive water ski clinic on Aug. 13 at Shredder Lake.
How you can help
Children’s Hospital’s Adaptive Sports Program needs your help. For more information or to volunteer with or donate to the program, visit the Children's Adaptive Sports Program web page.