Adaptive Kayaking & Scuba Diving. Disabled, Handicapped. Adaptive Sports, Adapted

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Bringing the sport of kayaking to the disabled through training and development of adaptive equipment!



Even quadriplegics can use kayaks

Camarillo engineer devises ways to help disabled enjoy sport

By Alisha Semchuck, Correspondent
September 30, 2003

Just mention the word "ocean," and Mark Theobald is there.

His passion for water sports like kayaking and diving runs as deep as the sea and ultimately led the 47-year-old Camarillo resident to develop an adaptive kayak that enables physically disabled men and women -- individuals like Santa Clarita resident Steve Turkheimer -- to participate in those same activities.

"I love the freedom and adventure of being on the water. I started diving at age 8," said Theobald, a Ventura County resident since 1976.

Turkheimer, a 46-year-old cost accountant and business systems analyst, shares Theobald's enthusiasm for certain water sports, despite his paralysis.

The catalyst for the adaptive kayak Theobald developed dates back to November 1999, when he attended a meeting of the Channel Islands Divers, a Ventura-based club. There he listened to a speech by Denise Dowd, course director at the Santa Barbara Training Center for the Handicapped Scuba Association. Information he gleaned from her presentation fascinated him.

"That was my first introduction to learning about working with disabled people," he said. He eventually signed up for her course and began participating in dives with the disabled.

Around the same time, Dowd contacted him about a kayaking event organized by California Children's Service.

"That particular event was for a group of kids with disabilities," Theobald said. At that time, he realized the need for adaptations to kayaks that would make them feasible for use by people who lived with varying degrees of physical challenges.

"So I went to work on the paddling fixture and had it ready for the second event," said Theobald, a professional design engineer.

By March 2000, he had developed the first prototype of a device that holds the paddle in place for disabled kayak enthusiasts by firmly attaching a wooden block he called a boom to the front deck of the vessel. To that boom he affixed a swivel caster that allows for maneuverability of the paddle. The boom supports enough weight so users can rest their entire arms on the paddle by leaning their upper torso against the apparatus.

Theobald's design benefits kayakers because it holds the paddle in place and always keeps the blades in a vertical position -- a necessary element of guided water travel for that particular type of vehicle.

His creation assists quadriplegics who have limited use of their arms and minimal, if any, ability to grip with their hands. It also proves functional for paddlers who have use of only one arm and hand. After he devised the paddle apparatus, he custom designed seats to meet diverse needs of kayakers based on their weight and size.

"With my engineering background, I see solutions. They just come to me," Theobald said.

Turkheimer, an incomplete quadriplegic who has use of his arms, but not his hands, said he connected with Theobald because he, too, is a scuba diver, and he connected with Theobald during a dive session.

"He watched me paddle with big loops, straps clamped to the oar. I had to pull back, rather than push. It was very inefficient."

Turkheimer, who has been out on the ocean with Theobald on several occasions, including a trip to the UCLA Marina Aquatic Center in Marina del Rey in July, praises Theobald's invention.

"The paddle is longer and easier to handle. It's a nice piece of adaptive equipment."

He said the design facilitates both the stability and performance of the kayak.

"I think he's got a good thing going."

Ventura High School art teacher Kay Zetlmaier accompanied Theobald on the Marina del Rey trip to assist the disabled participants using the kayaks. In a thank-you note to the inventor, she said she found the enthusiasm and energy level of the participants inspirational.

Theobald, who operates the Web site, says the disabled participants he associates with impress him.

"They have no fear of the water. They put a lot of faith in us. We put a lot of faith in them. Courageous is a pretty good way to describe them."