Megan McCauley believes her life has gotten better since she became paralyzed from the mid-stomach down.She said that’s tough for some people to understand but it’s how she sees life now. In the five years since she was involved in crash during a family Thanksgiving in Charlotte, McCauley has become a world class athlete, participating in the Adaptive Sports and Adventure Program. She’s become an inspiration and an advocate for people with disabilities. She’s healthier than she ever was as a 22-year-old chef in Asheville. “I wouldn’t be where I am without the program,” said the 27-year-old woman who lives in the Rocky River area of North Mecklenburg. “It opened up the world to me. Opened up things that I never thought was possible. I owe my life to it.”The Adaptive Sports and Adventure Program is run by the Carolinas Rehabilitation Center, a Carolinas HealthCare Systems facility. McCauley joined the water skiing program offered by the Cornelius YMCA and the rehab center three years ago and next year will compete for a world championship in Milan, Italy. And she won’t be alone. Two other members of the program, Robbie Parks and Eli Hager, will also be competing at the 2013 Disabled Water Ski World Championships. “As soon as I was in rehab it was ‘Ok, what can I do?’” she recalled. “And the program was one of those revelation moments where I realized that I wasn’t as limited as I had feared.” That’s the point, Jennifer Moore, the program’s coordinator said. “It’s about opening doors,” Moore said. “(The Adaptive Sports and Adventure Program) is meant to let people with these disabilities know that they’re not held back. And to give them access to things that they generally would never be able to do.”The water skiing program began in the mid 1990s. During the summer months program organizers take to Lake Norman at the YMCA’s private cove twice a week to climb aboard a three-ski chair and tool around the expansive waters. The Y has partnered with the program since its inception. Moore said the participants have varying disabilities. The majority have physical limitations from an amputation, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy or spina bifida. But more and more people with development disabilities have began to take part in the program. Last summer, about 70 people took to the water as part of the program’s twice weekly water skiing. But putting together such a program isn’t cheap or easy. It costs about $500 a day for 15 to 20 riders to get up on the modified boards, program leaders said. It requires eight program employees for one person to ride, including people on jet skis to trail the skier in case of an emergency and safety and boat personnel.But the service, program participants said, shouldn’t be equated to simple dollars and cents. Eight-year-old Cody Sherill of Mooresville, who has spina bifida, has been in the program for three years and his mother says she’s glad he has an outlet for his adventurous side.“Cody has a very independent mind and spirit that just happens to be attached to a very dependent body,” Sherill said. “He is just like every other 8-year-old, he wants to get outside and get dirty.”Cody, like his mom, prefers to race from roller coaster to roller coaster when the family takes a trip to Carowinds. He loves the adrenalin rush. “I remember when he first started the water skiing program, he was so small for his size that we had to hold him in the chair,” Sherill said. “But he loved it. He would tell me to ‘go faster, go faster.’ It was amazing.”Moore said stories like these are awe-inspiring but are a pretty normal experience. “You’ll see these guys get out on the water and just light up,” she said. “They didn’t know this was something they would ever get to do.”For McCauley, who sells medical equipment such as wheelchairs, the program was a way into sports but also a lifeline. She takes part in the program’s rugby league and bikes on a hand cycle nearly every day. “When you start to look at the world not as a bunch of stuff that you can’t do or that is too difficult because of a disability, everything changes,” she said. “Having that outlet to get started is all you need. ... It’s all up to you after that.”
Friday, Nov. 23, 2012
Disabilities don’t hold them back
Sports programs offers opportunities and fun
Megan McCauley, 27, prepares to ski on Lake Cornelius in July, has become a world class athlete while participating in the Adaptive Sports and Adventure Program.
Make the season brighter Every holiday season, the Observer asks readers to donate to the Empty Stocking Fund, which provides gifts to needy families. Send checks to The Empty Stocking Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte NC 28237-7269 or donate online through PayPal at charlotteobserver.com/emptystockingfund.
Want to help? Anyone interested in participating in the Carolinas Rehabilitation Adaptive Sports and Adventure programs can contact the program at 704-355-4300 or visit www.carolinashealthcare.org/carolinas-rehab. The program offers participation in sports like rugby, soccer, hand cycling, snow and water skiing, swimming, tennis, fish and golf.