– Republished via the Worcester Telegram –  article here:  https://www.telegram.com/news/20200808/water-skiing-program-provides-wondrous-opportunities-for-people-with-disabilities

Charlton resident Ryan DesRoches has been water skiing for almost 30 years, and has had many exhilarating runs on local lakes and ponds, but few compared to the experience he had last summer while volunteering with the Leaps of Faith Adaptive Skiers.

LOF, which is based in Sandy Hook, Connecticut and was founded in 1992, provides recreational and competitive water (and snow) skiing opportunities for children and adults with disabilities.

“One of the people I skied with was a 40-year-old woman with cerebral palsy,” DesRoches, who is president of the Webster Water Ski Collective, said. “She was nonverbal with very limited mobility, especially on the left side of her body, but you could see her eyes light up and the smile on her face when we were out on the water. That was it for me. I wanted to make sure I could do this more often.”

On Aug. 20 at Webster Lake, the Webster Water Ski Collective will team with the LOF Adaptive Skiers for an event called “Any Disability, Any Age,” with licensed instructors helping participants learn how to water ski using specialized equipment.

Webster Water Ski Collective is an affiliated USA Water Ski club with locations on Webster Lake at Point Breeze and also on Glen Echo Lake in Charlton.

DesRoches said 25 skiers, ages 7-28 and mostly from Central Mass., are signed up for the event, with several more on a waiting list.

“They’ll be spending the whole day,” DesRoches said, “and we want to make sure each individual skier has a great time. That’s really what this is all about is to make this one of their most positive days of the summer. That’s our goal. This summer, with COVID going on, it’s been really tough. For a lot of families that I’ve spoken to, this is the only real opportunity they’ve had to do anything fun this year.”

Point Breeze will provide lunch, DesRoches said, Lake View Marina is donating some docks, and the Webster Police Department is helping out.

“It’s really a community event,” DesRoches said.

DesRoches, who grew up in Webster and graduated from Bartlett High, has been instructing kids and running ski events through the Webster Water Ski Collective for the last 20 years. He saw on social media some groups from the United Kingdom and Australia doing adaptive water skiing and those videos piqued his interest.

“I always thought that was nice,” DesRoches said. “It just so happens last year I stumbled across LOH Adaptive Skiers, asked them about their program, and they told me to come on down to see how everything is working.”

Specialized equipment such as sit-skis, outriggers, single skis and shoulder slings accommodate the skiers.

The trained volunteer skier goes with them on a separate line, DesRoches said, and is there to lend a hand, support and encouragement. A trailing driver on a jet ski is an additional safety person, DesRoches said.

LOF will be training DesRoches’ staff in Webster.

“We are hoping this becomes an annual event for us,” DesRoches said. “If it goes as well as we’re thinking it can go, we’re hoping to expand it to a two-day even next year.”

DesRoches said this year’s event filled up in just two to three days after it was announced.

DesRoches is also trying to procure some sponsors to help buy the specialized equipment.

“It’s about $2,000 for one ski unit,” DesRoches said, “so it’s not cheap. Then you have to be trained on them, how to rig them up, how to get the person in and out and secure them in there safely.”

Last summer while volunteering with LOF, whose mission is to teach and assist people with disabilities to “Soar Beyond Their Boundaries,” at their “Lake to Lake” event at Lake Zoar in Connecticut, DesRoches learned how to set up a skier on a sit ski, how to side ski with the person, what safety precautions go into adaptive skiing, and so much more.

“I met some really incredible people,” DesRoches said. “Everybody had the opportunity to ski. It was very inspirational as a skier myself. Some of the young kids, just the smiles on their faces, you can’t help but be roped in.”

—Contact Jennifer Toland at jennier.toland@telegram.com. Follow her on Twitter @JenTandG.