Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Sunset Water Sports officially used the adaptive water equipment donated by Child and Family Services last weekend.
Family and friends came to Point Park to watch and cheer for Nicole LePine, 22, the first person to use the adaptive sit ski after volunteers received extensive training on how to provide the assistance needed.
“I’m on cloud nine knowing I’m the first person to officially use the equipment,” LePine said. “Last night when I told my dad, he said I’m a legend! I seriously cannot stop smiling!”
LePine had a massive stroke four years ago that affected her mobility and balance. She said she primarily uses a wheelchair to get around because the stroke left her left side more affected.
Before LePine’s accident, she loved doing all sports involving water. However, after her stroke she said she just accepted the fact that she would not be able to do it anymore.
“I was clearly proven wrong,” LePine said. “Sitting in the sit ski and getting in the water was such an unreal feeling. Like pinch me so I know this is real feeling! I could feel the adrenaline setting in and I was so excited to try it out.”
Shawna McRitchie and Mar Fraczkiewicz Both own Sunset Water Sports. They have been trying to fundraise to purchase adaptive water equipment to allow individuals with a wide range of abilities, take part in recreation on the lake. The plan became a reality when Child and Family Services approached the pair with a partnership offer.
Fraczkiewicz is a certified adaptive water sports trainer from Water Ski and Wakeboard Canada. During the training course, Fraczkiewicz worked with individuals paralyzed from the waist down. He is now also training volunteers how to handle the adaptive equipment while making the person using them comfortable.
Fraczkiewicz said the first official use of the sit ski could not have gone better. He also added that he is already coming up with the idea of eliminating side skiers in order to give LePine the freedom of driving by herself.
That being said, Fraczkiewicz explained that it is a learning curve and volunteers will always need to alter their approach in order to cater to each individual need.
“Each person who we are going to work with is going to have different challenges and we are going to have to adapt every time so it is always a learning curve,” Fraczkiewicz said. “You can have two individuals with the same disabilities but you need to adapt differently for both ones, the biggest challenge is just learning what they need from us and adapting to it.”
LePine said the volunteers were excited for her, always made her laugh and constantly asked if she was feeling comfortable.
“I was able to instantly trust them, making my parents worry less. I would definitely do this again and I’m hoping to get out again this season,” LePine said.
“I know this program will help people along with the community because it will show the the community that people with disabilities are able. It gives people with a disabilities a reason to be out in the community! I think this program can and will be beneficial to everyone!”
Fraczkiewicz said they are just scratching the serface of where they want to be with helping everyone with physical limitations be on the lake.
“As much as we are helping them, they are helping us,” Fraczkiewicz said. “It really changes your look on life when you help someone out that was told they won’t be able to accomplish something like this. You help make it come true for them.”