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Out & Active: State program offers the disabled a chance for outdoor fun (with video)

  • Angela Boyle checks her mirrors before she rides with her husband Daniel Boyle for Independent Cycling an event every Saturday from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. at All Out Adventures Saturday, July 16, 2016 in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/ANDREW WHITAKER

  • Angela Boyle raises her arms before crossing King during the Independent Cycling with All Out Adventures Saturday, July 16, 2016 in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/ANDREW WHITAKER

  • A bicyclist rides passed Daniel Boyle and his wife Angela Boyle while they ride during the Independent Cycling with All Out Adventures Saturday, July 16, 2016 in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/ANDREW WHITAKER

  • Angela Boyle has her bicycle fitted to her comfort before she rides with her husband Daniel Boyle for Independent Cycling an event every Saturday from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. at All Out Adventures Saturday, July 16, 2016 in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/ANDREW WHITAKER

  • Angela Boyle of Holyoke, who suffered a head injury that affects her balance, has found joy in riding a recumbent bike in the program. GAZETTE STAFF/ANDREW WHITAKER

  • Daniel Boyle and his wife Angela Boyle ride during the Independent Cycling with All Out Adventures Saturday, July 16, 2016 in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/ANDREW WHITAKER

  • Daniel Boyle accompanies his wife Angela Boyle on a bike ride. Angela Boyle said the chance to ride has changed her life: “Sometimes I go home and I cry tears of happiness.” GAZETTE STAFF/ANDREW WHITAKER

  • Daniel Boyle and his wife Angela Boyle ride during the Independent Cycling with All Out Adventures Saturday, July 16, 2016 in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/ANDREW WHITAKER

  • Farmer and Lanteigne have been kayaking together off and on for four years. Farmer says he was nervous at first, but they have never capsized and Lanteigne loves the excursions. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Matt Fishkind and Debbie Goddard after launching in a kayak as part of the Universal Access program at the DAR. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Daniel Murdza gets help from his father, Michael Murdza and mother, Deanna Murdza (in purple) before going kayaking as part of a Universal Access program at the DAR. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kayakers after launching at the DAR as part of the Universal Access program. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kayakers after launching at the DAR as part of the Universal Access program. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • left Brian Farmer and Keith Plunske lift Jon Lanteigne of Amherst into a kayak during an Universal Access program at the DAR. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jon Lanteigne of Amherst, who is non-verbal, raises his hands to let everyone know he is all set to go kayaking at Highland Lake in Goshen as part of the state’s Universal Access program. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Caregiver Brian Farmer, left, and Keith Plunske help Lanteigne, who uses a wheelchair, into the kayak. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Karen Foster, the executive director of AOL, checks in with Jon Lanteigne of Amherst, before he goes kayaking at the DAR as part of a Universal Access program. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Matt Fishkind helps Jon Lanteigne of Amherst into a life preserver during an Universal Access program at the DAR. The group then went kayaking. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Matt Fishkind helps Jon Lanteigne of Amherst into a life preserver during an Universal Access program at the DAR. The group then went kayaking. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



For the Gazette
Wednesday, August 03, 2016

When Jon Lanteigne, 61, abandons his wheelchair on the sandy shore of Lake Highland in Goshen at D.A.R State Forest to go kayaking, pure bliss is all you can see on his face.

Lanteigne is non-verbal. He lives in a group home for adults with disabilities in Amherst and goes kayaking about five times every year. When he is hoisted from his wheelchair into the kayak and pushed off the shore into the water, he smiles broadly as he glides and bobs across the water.

He is one of hundreds of people taking advantage of the activities offered by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Universal Access Program, which aims to make outdoor recreation in Massachusetts state parks accessible to all residents regardless of ability.

“It provides a new way to exercise and it also reduces social isolation. It gets people out and active with things that many people wouldn’t be able to do on their own,” said Karen Foster, executive director of All Out Adventures, a nonprofit in Northampton collaborating with the state on accessible programming. “It’s a fascinating thing that is happening in state parks.”

The program caters to people of all ages and offers everything from cycling trips on the Norwottuck Rail Trail, which runs from Northampton to Amherst, to canoeing at Hampton Ponds State Park in Westfield. Family and friends can accompany their loved ones.

At any given event, there could be survivors of brain injuries or stokes, children with autism or veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, said Foster.

“You see the smiles and the joy and the ‘I never thought I could do this and it’s amazing,” she said.  “A lot of times people who come out are really skeptical and then they see that it is possible and they are all smiles.”

On the water

Before the kayaking excursion, padding is fitted around the edges of the boat so Lanteigne won’t bump his legs getting in and out. The staff members are careful to cover any sharp surfaces to keep their clients from getting pressure sores that could lead to infection, said Foster.

An upright seat is inside the kayak to keep him stabilized.

A handful of Universal Access Program staff members, all trained lifeguards, are on site to help with everything from applying sunscreen to strapping life vests on. 

Caregiver Brian Farmer of Chicopee is sitting in the back of the tandem kayak, working as the motor, while also steering the boat.

Lanteigne sits back, perfectly still. He doesn’t have an oar of his own, but Farmer, 36, doesn’t mind doing all the work. He has worked as a caregiver since graduating from high school and he has been at Lanteigne’s side for four years, assisting him with all aspects of daily life, helping with chores, taking him to the mall. Kayaking is something they both look forward to, he said.

As the boat drifts away from the shore, Lanteigne looks like he is meditating as he tilts his head toward the sun, the light reflecting off his sunglasses. His arms are at ease by his sides, as his fingers skim the surface of the water.

While Lanteigne isn’t able to communicate verbally, he can gesture with his hands and express emotion in his eyes. This type of communication Farmer has grown to understand over the years and can easily detect the joy that Lanteigne took away from his 45 minutes on the lake.

“He loved it, he thought it was the greatest thing,” Farmer said after pulling ashore. “There were a little more waves than usual, but it was great.”

This is the first kayaking excursion of the season, but they hope to return a couple of more times before the cold weather sets in.

From watching to doing

Every Wednesday afternoon during the summer, the Universal Access Program and All Out Adventures host these kayaking trips at the D.A.R where typically up to 40 people come throughout the day to participate, said Foster.

Farmer said he was nervous at first to go kayaking with Lanteigne, but so far they have never capsized, only gotten a few drips of water in the boat from the paddle splashing.

Before coming to the Universal Access Program, Lanteigne had never been in a kayak, but had always watched the River Rat Race, an annual canoe race in his hometown, Athol. 

Farmer noticed his interest in the water. “I was like, ‘Hey, Jon, you want to try kayaking sometime?’ and he loved it,” he said. “You’ll see when we get out on the water these big smiles.” Since then, they have been coming on and off for four years.

There are outdoor activities like this happening during the summer on almost every day of the week. Some days Lanteigne is able to go cycling on the bike trail in Hadley, using a duet bike, which is a tandem bicycle with what looks like a wheelchair in the front and bike pedals in the back.

On the bike trail 

Dozens of people take advantage of the adaptive bicycling program every week and there are always staff members on hand to help. 

“These folks here, they are just so kind and compassionate. They just help you. The biking is the best thing for me,” said Angela Boyle, 57, of Holyoke, a former nurse practitioner who suffered a brain injury and has been taking advantage of the adaptive cycling for two years.

“It’s really unbelievable, the care and the love. You can really see that it is heartfelt,” she said. “They recognize peoples’ abilities and not their disabilities.”

After her injury in 2013 when she slammed her head on a rock while swimming, she suffered from dizzy spells and headaches and no longer had the balance to use a regular bike but through the program she was able to ride a recumbent bike.

She said the ability to get out and cycle has changed her life for the better. “Sometimes, I go home and I cry, tears of happiness, of course,” she said. “The people are so thoughtful and kind.”

Along with her husband and caregiver, Daniel Boyle, she bikes every week for a few hours. Sometimes they also go kayaking in Goshen.

“There is nothing better that could have happened to me. I’m getting my strength back, my independence,” she said.

To pre-register for Wednesday kayaking at D.A.R. State Forest in Goshen or for Friday adaptive biking on the Norwottuck Rail Trail in Hadley, call All Out Adventures at 584-2052. The adaptive biking is $3 per person. Most kayaking programs are $5 per person.

For more information about the outdoor activities offered by the All Out Adventures and the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Universal Access Program, visit http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks/accessibility/accessible-events.html or http://www.alloutadventures.org/.

Lisa Spear can be reached at lspear@gazettenet.com.