Having Fun with WNY Adaptive Water Sports

By Shira Jacobson

Published on

“I’m always looking for fun,” is one of the first things Kate Hahn says. Kate has always been adventurous. She is no stranger to traveling solo, skydiving and hang-gliding. Kate also happens to have muscular dystrophy, a progressive disease that has kept her in a wheelchair for eleven years.

Kate’s outdoor adventures and exhilarating experiences for the last four years have been made possible with the help of Western New York Adaptive Water Sports, a local not-for-profit agency whose mission is to provide recreational and therapeutic experiences in and on the water for people with disabilities.

The organization dates its origins to the summer of 2003 when a group of friends went sailing. Included in the group were Tom Hagerty and Mike Nowak, both partially disabled by MS, but lovers of sailing. Due to the inaccessible nature of the docks at the time, the two had to use crutches to get from the parking lot to the docks. It then took three men to lift them up into the cockpit of the boat. That’s when Mike slipped and fell into the river.

Discouraged, but undaunted, the friends agreed that something needed to be done.

“We needed to make it so things were more accessible for a lot more people,” explains Tony Anderson, a determined advocate on behalf of making Buffalo more accessible.

With a group of like-minded friends, they began lobbying for accessible docks and facilities and producing waterfront events and expos. Around this time, Tony and his wife Carol became certified Adaptive SCUBA instructors, inspired by a friend who had MS who found moving on land difficult and painful, but found new freedom of movement underwater. These activities eventually came together under the banner of WNY Adaptive Watersports, a chapter of Disabled Sports USA, a national organization that promotes sports for individuals with disabilities and provides assistance to its affiliates with insurance and grant opportunities.

Everything provided at WNY Adaptive Watersports is done at no charge to the individual – it all comes together from donations, grants and volunteers. The volunteers at WNY Adaptive Water Sports provide support every step of the way – from assisting individuals in and out of the equipment, to being by their side on jet skis in the water to offering help at any given moment.

“We’re trying to create more awareness and do more programming,” Tony Anderson explains. As an Adaptive SCUBA instructor who has researched and seen first-hand the benefits of scuba for individuals with PTSD, Tony understands the healing nature of water. From sailing to tubing to water skiing – WNY Adaptive Water Sports is committed to creating fun experiences on the water for people with disabilities.

“What I think is super cool is that anytime I go there, everybody remembers me – I’m pretty proud of my reputation,” Kate says. Last time she went tubing at Gallagher Beach with WNY Adaptive Water Sports, the captain of the boat hollered, “I remember you! You’re crazy and love to fly across the water!”

WNY Adaptive Water Sports doesn’t think having a disability means you should be having any less fun, and Kate is appreciative of this.

If you’d like to learn more, volunteer or are a recreational therapist interested in working with WNY Adaptive Water Sports as they work to expand their therapeutic offerings, contact Tony Anderson by email at tanderson@rjopepc.com.

Shira Jacobson headshot

Shira Jacobson

Originally from NYC, I moved to Buffalo knowing very little about this city and fell in love with it in a way I never anticipated. Now, all I want to do is spread that Buffalove to others.