Written By: Dana Larcernaire, Conference Director
This year’s TRR Adaptive Paddling Conference was our best yet, despite Mother Nature’s attempt to keep us off the rivers. The Conference was held in Uniontown, PA several beautiful miles from some of the Country’s best whitewater. The Youghiogheny River provides the perfect setting for novice and experienced whitewater kayakers alike… unless a huge tropical storm sweeps the area the day before the Conference causing the rivers to flood up over their banks. The river level of the Youghiogheny was scheduled to be a typical 1.5 feet but the storm brought it up to a whopping 11 feet! “Are we going to be able to paddle?” was the most commonly asked question from all 50 participants during our delicious meet and greet dinner where some of TRR’s finest came together to network and collaborate. We had 23 TRR chapters represented and about two thirds of the Conference participants had served in the Military! We also had a strong VA presence which was a perfect fit, seeing as we were able to fund the Conference though a grant from the Veteran’s Administration facilitated by Disabled Sports USA.
After lots of logistical scrambling and local river scouting we were able to hold a Swift water Rescue Training at Friendsville Park at the takeout of the Upper Youghiogheny. Charlie Duffy of our Fort Belvoir Chapter did a phenomenal job getting everyone active, involved, and it was a wonderful way to kick off the on water portion of the Conference.
The next day, the “flatwater” section of the Youghiogheny was still raging so Group A headed over to a local gem, the Casselman River. The day was exciting, to say the least, with a total record 17 swims on the not-so-flat class II+/III- Casselman. The swift water rescue training was put to very good use and the group had a fantastic day, learning and laughing a lot. Group B braved the still significantly high class III+ Lower Youghiogheny and had an absolute blast. Some of the participants had never been on water that big and increased both their skill and confidence. A third group was elbow deep in discussion and outfitting foam during the ACA Adaptive Paddling Workshop held by Joe Moore of Adaptive Expeditions and Kevin Carr of Creating Ability.
The final day went much more smoothly. The Casselman Crew knew what to expect and the river section and leadership groups were adjusted accordingly. A few more people joined the Lower Youghiogheny excitement and the team had a very strong skills day as well. The Adaptive Paddling Workshop continued their information intense course and were introduced to students with disabilities who were new to kayaking. The participants, with the oversight of Joe and Kevin, outfitted kayaks for the students and the group shuttled to a local pool where the participants covered topics such as risk assessment and management, as well as techniques to paddle comfortably, safely, and with a high level of performance.
During the Farewell Dinner and final pow-wow it was apparent that the participants were very appreciative and grateful for their Conference experience, excited to share their adaptive paddling knowledge with others from their TRR chapters, and many would be returning home with new lifelong friendships and memories.