Kelly Van Veldhuizen-Post knew how to swim, but had never water-skied before she became wheelchair-bound 13 years ago.
On Saturday, she was out on the water.
“It feels really free out there,” smiled Van Veldhuizen-Post of East Moline.
She was one of 22 participants Saturday when Genesis Medical Center offered its seventh annual Adaptive Water Ski Clinic for people with physical disabilities. It was held at the Backwater Gamblers’ dock on the Rock River, just south of Blackhawk Road in Rock Island.
“I held onto the bars very tightly, but now I pull the rope up and go over the wake,” she explained. “All the volunteers here make it a wonderful and seamless experience.”
Most who signed up to ski had spinal cord injuries, while there were some with cerebral palsy and a few with amputated limbs.
In addition to the ski team in the water and on the boats, teachers and students from the St. Ambrose University occupational therapy program assisted. They were off to the side determining how high and wide each “ski cage” needed to be.
Professor Phyllis Wenthe said the cage is a padded, canvas seat framed by titanium tubes, which is locked onto one big, wide ski. The sling seat sits higher in the front than the back. The skier’s feet fit into a strap. It’s all individually positioned, with extra equipment if need be, for the greatest stability, she said.
Glen Sancken, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist from Genesis, started the program in 2004.
He feared that the recent rain might cancel the event. More water makes a faster current and brings about more debris, making it less-safe to ski, he said.
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Josh Benhart of Moline had a grin on his face from start to finish.
He insisted he wasn’t scared his first time last year, “but probably should have been! It’s awesome.”
The skis and skiers were walked into the river by two helpers. Then, a crew of Backwater Gamblers prepped the skiers with the boat ropes for rides of up to fifteen minutes.
There were plenty of tumbles. Retiree Brent Herman of Princeton, Iowa, said, “It was a riot, great, better than last year.”
Friends teased him over his five falls and restarts — because each time an attractive, young female Gambler helped him back up.