Helping Oklahomans with Disabilities

Jun 18, 2014

Ray Utter gets into a special kayak on the Oklahoma River

A debilitating injury or illness leading to physical or mental limitations can feel like the end of the world, but it certainly doesn’t have to be that way.

The folks at INTEGRIS Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation want to show that people can still enjoy their passions despite disabilities.

KOSU’s Michael Cross introduces us to Adaptive Leisure.

It’s a beautiful afternoon at the Devon Boathouse on the Oklahoma River as kids bring kayaks and needle canoes to the water.

Ray Utter walks up with a cane to help support his body.

Three years ago, an industrial accident left Ray paralyzed below the knee and numb below the waist in the back.

It changed his life.

“It was terrible. Just had to sit around and wait on everybody else to do everything for you.”

Not long afterward, though, Ray found something he truly enjoyed: Kayaking.

“It’s fun. It gets you out there, a little active. Gets you stretched out moving around.”

Problem was without the feeling in the back of his leg and paralytic below the knee it would be hard to keep balance and not tip over.

That’s where the folks at the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation came in with a special kayak adapted to Ray’s needs.

Ray makes his way into this kayak with small pontoons on the back to help stabilize the small, thin craft.

It also includes a seat with arm rests to help him control the vessel.

These kinds of products for Adaptive Leisure will be on display at the INTEGRIS Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation Center in southwest Oklahoma City Thursday night.

Recreational Therapist Paige Stuart says Adaptive Leisure shows that illness, injuries and even getting older don’t have to mean an end to activity.

“People tend to isolate themselves which brings on depression and obviously that’s not healthy emotionally, but it’s not healthy physically either, and they start to shut down.”

The Adaptive Leisure Exposition encourages people to enjoy their passions.

Some of the activities on display include gardening, golf, hunting, farming, ranching, fishing, archery, cycling and even billiards.

Paige says injured individuals can continue their hobbies and still live an active lifestyle

“To be able to show them that there are places like the Devon Boathouse that have these adaptive opportunities for them and there are the same people with similar disabilities that have been through the situation and are out here being active.”

Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation Executive Director Mike Knopp says being out on the river in a small boat can be a healthy activity.

“It’s a little challenging like anything else at first you’re learning a new technique. But, I think that’s what drives people to keep coming out is there’s always something to improve upon, get a little bit better maybe. Start to paddle with others.”

And, it encourages competition.

“We are an Olympic and Paralympic training site here on the Oklahoma River, and we love to inspire people to go out and do something they’ve never done before and perhaps go further with it.”

In fact, Mike says Paracanoe is getting introduced at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.

Ray rows his kayak back to shore talking to designer James Lee about the craft.

Competition is very much a part of Ray’s goal now.

Recently Ray received a bronze for Paracanoe at the Endeavor games in Oklahoma City.

He says with a smile, “I’d like to go and see, see what my options are, see how far I could go. Maybe turn this into a good hobby, maybe do some racing, competition-wise.”

The Adaptive Leisure Expo runs from 4:00 to 7:00 Thursday night at the INTEGRIS Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation Center at 4219 South Western in Oklahoma City.

You can find out more information at