Adaptive Water-Skiing Knows No Limits: A Therapeutic Recreation Program in Colorado Celebrates 30 Years of Inclusive Sport

By Oftedahl, Whitney | Parks & Recreation, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Adaptive Water-Skiing Knows No Limits: A Therapeutic Recreation Program in Colorado Celebrates 30 Years of Inclusive Sport


Oftedahl, Whitney, Parks & Recreation


It's been 30 years since the first adaptive water-skier skimmed across the glassy water of the Boulder Reservoir tethered to instructor Jim Ziegler's boat. The City of Boulder, Colorado's EXPAND (EXciting Programs, Adventures and New Dimensions) therapeutic recreation program provides opportunities for individuals with disabilities to gain new recreation skills that will enhance their overall well-being and improve their quality of life. This water-ski program provides a unique and safe opportunity for individuals with varying degrees of abilities and disabilities to engage in a recreational activity that would otherwise not be possible. Individuals with spinal-cord injuries, amputations, brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy and visual impairments currently participate in the program every year.

Jim Ziegler, a certified instructor for the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) since 1978, founded the adaptive water-ski program in Boulder, Colorado, at the Boulder Reservoir in June of 1983. Initially, Ziegler used his own boat, a handful of volunteers and his personal equipment. As equipment evolved and demand increased, he found an eager partner with the City of Boulder Parks and Recreation Department's EXPAND program, which began supporting Ziegler's initiative in 1988. As the program continued to grow, there was a need for additional funding for the water-ski program to operate, and EXPAND Beyond, Inc. was formed to provide funding for equipment to leverage the City of Boulder's financial support. EXPAND Beyond, Inc. achieved 501(c)(3) status in March 2007.

"We've learned a lot over 30 years, and we keep improving the program and equipment based on our experience and the needs of our community," says Ziegler, who is still very active with the program.

The program runs every Tuesday morning from June to August and serves people with physical disabilities, no matter their capability level. Each participant's ability, past experience and individual needs are all taken into consideration as instructors custom-fit a program to each water-skier. Before a participant enters the water, time is set aside for the individual to be custom-fitted for an adaptive ski or wakeboard, which ensures their safety and enjoyment of each water session.

For individuals with higher needs, three watercraft and a minimum of six volunteers support each individual on and in the water. …

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