Adaptive water skiing program does more than skim surface of enjoyment

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RICHMOND — With a toothy smile stretched across his face, Nick Trova left his wheelchair at the shoreline and whipped across glistening Richmond Pond on water skis.

Trova, 19, was among about 40 recreational therapy campers at Camp Russell with physical and intellectual disabilities who participated in an adaptive water skiing program Tuesday offered by Leap of Faith Adaptive Skiers.

"It's all about empowering kids and giving them as much independence as possible," Kathleen Phillips, who works in resource development at the Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires, said while campers were helped onto modified water skis.

More than a dozen volunteers from Leap of Faith and Camp Russell kept a careful watch on the campers, who were able to use chair skis or standing skis with modified gear.

Mike Lally, who worked at the Boys & Girls Club as early as sixth grade, is now on the board of directors at Leap of Faith, based in Sandy Hook, Conn.

The organization, which sponsored Tuesday's event, was developed by national champion water ski jumper Joel Zeisler in 1992 after a blind veteran asked him to teach him the sport. It holds events all over New England, Lally said.

On Tuesday, two boats pulled campers on water skis while volunteers flanked them on each side.

Grace Boucher, a 19-year-old Lanesborough resident with multiple disabilities, was one of the first Berkshire campers to use the chair skis.

"She had a fantastic time," said her mother, Maura, after Boucher returned to her wheelchair. "It's an opportunity she normally wouldn't have."

Boucher has come to Camp Russell since she was 5 and loves to spend time in the water, whether it be tubing or in the pool, but Tuesday was her first time on water skis, her mother said.

Many parents of disabled campers could never before imagine their children having access to a sport like water skiing, so the Boys & Girls Club invited them to Richmond Pond on Tuesday, according to Joseph McGovern, the organization's CEO.

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When Grace Boucher took her first run, people watching from the shore wept, he said.

"As a father, I wouldn't want to miss this if it were my son or daughter," McGovern said. "We're just trying to give kids the opportunity to do things they would otherwise never be able to do."

Like Lally, McGovern also grew up visiting the Boys & Girls Club and was grateful that he reached out to bring the program to the Berkshires.

"The club changes lives every day," McGovern said. "And sometimes they come back to give back."

The Boys & Girls Club started serving disabled youths about 46 years ago, according to Rick Backer, who runs the recreational therapy program.

Jack Gray, 12, had tried water skiing before, at his uncle's home, but on Tuesday he started to feel more comfortable cruising the waves.

"I didn't fall over at all today," he said. "At first, I really didn't do good."

A normal day for the recreational therapy campers can include swimming, boat hikes, tubing, and taking the resident goat and mini-horse for a walk, according to counselor Katherine Ferris.

Whenever possible, the recreational therapy campers are integrated with the general population at Camp Russell, she said.

"Our main focus is always inclusion," Ferris said.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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