The Texas summer sun beat down on the waters of Lake Palestine Saturday as participants came out to enjoy the first ever Lake Palestine Adaptive Aquafest.
The event, presented by High Performance Homes and Texas Adaptive Aquatics, allowed children and adults with physical and mental disabilities the opportunity to water ski, many of them for the first time.
Texas Adaptive Aquatics provided the special equipment needed to accommodate participants.
The Houston-based nonprofit organization was started in 1989.
Since then, it has given more than 15,000 people with disabilities across the country the opportunity to participate in various water sports including skiing, sailing and kayaking, according to its website.
“It definitely changes their lives,” Roger Randall, president of the organization said. “The wheelchair is a prison to them. It gets them out of their chair and they get to feel the freedom of the water.”
Ms. Bryant’s late husband Mark Bryant was a paraplegic who enjoyed skiing with the organization. After volunteering at a similar event in Gladewater, Ms. Bryant decided to host one closer to home.
“We need this in Tyler,” she said. “We have a lot of people that would enjoy this and it just makes a difference in their lives. Just look at their faces. That’s why it’s important to me.”
Participants are lowered into the water and are assisted by volunteers and instructors into one of the specialty skis. They are then attached to a yellow boat bearing the TAA logo. Once the skier is in place, the boat rushes forward with a sudden burst of speed, pulling the skier along and leaving nothing but foaming water in its wake.
“It’s fun,” participant Billy Harris said.
After his trip on the lake, Harris was soaked from head to toe. However, nothing could dim the smile that stretched across his face. He had skied once before, and said that he wasn’t scared this time.
Harris was one of about 30 participants signed up to participate in the free event. Costs were covered using money raised through a poker tournament hosted by Texas Adaptive Aquatics in May.
Tracey Reynolds brought her 16-year-old son, Jim Reynolds, to the event.
“He likes to get involved and do things just like everyone else,” Ms. Reynolds said. “He has been looking forward to this for weeks.”
Ms. Bryant plans to make the Adaptive Aquafest an annual event.
“I think, as more and more people find out about this opportunity it’s going to continue to grow,” volunteer Chalease Denson said. “It will be great to get more and more people out here who are able to take advantage of something like this.”
For more information about Texas Adaptive Aquatics visit: www.taasports.org.