Rowing Is Key to River Rehab; Brooks-JU Program Big Help for Those with Physical Disabilities

By Agnew, Taylor | The Florida Times Union, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Rowing Is Key to River Rehab; Brooks-JU Program Big Help for Those with Physical Disabilities


Agnew, Taylor, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Taylor Agnew

Enter the Negaard Rowing Center at Jacksonville University early on a Wednesday morning, and you won't find traditional college-aged students getting ready for some strenuous rowing on the St. Johns River.

You'll meet up with people poised to face an entirely different set of challenges.

They're members of the Brooks Rehabilitation Adaptive Sports and Recreation Rowing Program, for people with physical disabilities.

The six-year-old joint venture of the university and Brooks uses the Negaard center as well as the St. Johns, where participants get a chance at therapy amid playful dolphins and other marine life, with both natural scenery and the city's skyline as backdrops.

The partnership was forged by former JU President Kerry Romesburg, whose son, Rod, is a quadriplegic, injured while surfing in Mexico in the 1980s.

Since its formation, the program has helped anywhere from six to nine people each year with conditions ranging from spinal cord injuries (quadriplegics, paraplegics), stroke effects and visual impairments to amputees, spina bifida, cerebral palsy and MS, organizers estimate.

"I call it rehab after rehab," said Brooks' Scott Brown, program coordinator.

"Once you've been through rehab and made all your gains with your physical and occupational therapist, you get home and you have a tendency not to 'use it.' So you lose all those gains, and on top of that you become more sedentary. Your quality of life decreases."

The relationship between JU and Brooks Rehabilitation benefits both, Brown said.

"We needed a venue to have rowing, and JU wanted to be a part of adaptive rowing," Brown said. "We work with each other."

And while all the exercise is critical, other aspects of the program, including team-building and bonding, are equally important, organizers and members say.

"The social aspect is a reason why I joined this program," said program member and Jacksonville resident Luther Delp, who suffered a spinal cord injury a couple of years ago in a motorcycle accident. "I would be lost without Brooks Rehabilitation."

When Delp first tried erging - using an ergometer, or indoor rowing machine - he went 1,200 meters and it took him more than an hour, Brown said.

He vowed never to return but did so the following week.

"Since then, he has improved dramatically," Brown said. "He's now rowing 5 to 10Ks with ease. He's now not using any supportive straps so he can strengthen his core and upper body."

Delp not only gets physical benefits from erging and on-the-water rowing but also emotional and spiritual benefits, Brown added.

"He is one of our biggest proponents. He knows how this can help people. …

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