The team at the finish

More Heart Than Scars

Paddling rivers is fun. It’s exhilarating to put on a whitewater river and know that you are going to travel several miles with nothing but a paddle and a purpose built boat. It’s also easy to take it for granted. Getting in and out of a boat and using our arms to propel it forward may seem simple, but can be incredible challenging to others – adaptive athletes. Through the evolution of the bellyak however, we’ve discovered a way to open up the same exhilaration to the differently-abled too.

From Toy to Tool for Transforming Lives

Bellyaks started out as an awesome way to play on the river in a high performance toy designed to navigate whitewater. In the process of using them, we realized that eliminating the sprayskirt and shortening the learning curve of traditional kayaking doesn’t just offer an insanely fun way to experience nature and get a workout. It also offers a solution for adaptive athletes no other product does. Swimming (or kayaking) isn’t always that easy, or even possible. But, through an intuitive and easy to use package, bellyaks allow these athletes to experience mobility, balance and exercise in a new way. As a result, the bellyak has become a tool that helps people transcend their scars and focus on the experience of NOW and who they want to become. As a business owner, seeing the experiences of people like William Blakely and Kyle Morgan have made me realize how important this is. Far more than just having a fun way to go down rivers.

More Heart Than Scars

We’ve recently been actively looking for more ways to get involved with adaptive athletes and those who would benefit from our innovative designs. With this in mind, we set up a booth at our local MS Walk to support their cause and to introduce people to the bellyak. The first person we met was a big, friendly, bearded guy named Zackary Paben, or Nubs as his friends call him. Zack, it turned out, is the founder of an amazing non-profit: More Heart Than Scars. Their mission:

For people with More Heart Than Scars
& their loved ones.
From trauma to disease,
together we transcend
our visible and invisible scars!

How They Help Adaptive Athletes

Among other things, Zack helps differently-abled people compete in Spartan Races – innovative obstacle courses held around the world. In the past, Zack would rig up all manner of sled-like contraptions to get his competitors through the mud pits, under the barbed wire, and as a means of transport. A lifelong paddler, he had been dreaming of something that was light, tough, durable, versatile and stable for mud, water and snow that kept the person using it safe. When he saw the bellyak, he knew immediately it was the piece of gear he was looking for. And I knew he was the person and organization I was looking for.

More Heart than Scars and Bellyak pose for a picture

Our Partnership

Bellyak is the first official corporate sponsor of More Heart Than Scars. Our missions align perfectly. They will be using the bellyak as a lightweight adventure sled for their upcoming season of Spartan Races. In fact, they’ve already taken the bellyak out for a spin in the Charlotte Spartan Race, and had a great time:

“Bellyak made it possible for Jesi Stracham, Miss Wheelchair NC 2017, to surf the mud pits with more stability, independence and fun than any of our other spinal cord injured MHTS athletes ever have before. A new world of adventure possibilities has oped with this amazing versatile craft called the Bellyak!”

Using the bellyak for a mud obstacle

 

 

 

Using the bellyak for a mud obstacle

The team at the finish The cutest team mascot

The Future

Through our collaboration, we are going to help get many more people to experience the freedom and mobility of bellyak specifically within Spartan Races. Together we will make a difference in the world, helping show what’s possible and reinforcing that we can better transcend our scars inside and out, together.

For more information on More Heart Than Scars, check out their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MoreHeartThanScars/

No Barriers Mindset: William Blakely’s Story

My name is William Blakely and I’m 17. I have cerebral palsy and have to use a wheelchair. I like to try new things and I especially like to try things that might get me hurt. My mom says I am “Badass”.

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I first paddled a regular kayak in February of 2014 and it was hard for me because of the spasticity in my legs and the metal plates in my hips. Then, in March of 2014, I demoed a Bellyak at Team River Runner roll practice. My mom saw how much I liked the Bellyak and got me one for Christmas in 2014. It feels good to be able to get out of my wheelchair and onto my Bellyak and paddle on the river. I’m normally in my chair during the day, so it feels good to be on the river, because I get to be out of my chair for a few hours of fun on the river. I’ve taken the Bellyak down three rivers in the last year. The first river I paddled on the Bellyak was the Cartecay river on the 4th of July in 2015 with Greg Garrard and Dan Brady. The second river was a month after the Cartecay. I paddled the Metro Hooch with Mark Mullinax and Rick Thompson.

 

This past spring, Bellyak had a contest I wrote a blog post about why I like Bellyak (read William’s Blog Here). I won the contest and received a free lesson on the Tuckaseegee River from Bellyak Founder Adam Masters and Instructor Ambassador Trainer Jamie MacLeod .

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I was excited about the lesson and I loved it. I learned how to steer and turn. It was fun to run the rapids, and I paddled most of the river by myself. I flipped the Bellyak over once, at the beginning of the run. It leaned a second time, but I recovered and continued to paddle down the river.

William Blakely

I finished off the trip with a fruit punch and a Gatorade and I also got a free hat.

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A few weeks ago, I paddled the Tuckasegee River again. This time, I paddled with mom, my brother John, Greg, his wife Kelly, and a few people from GCA. This was the first time my mom, my brother and I have paddled together, so it was a big deal to my mom. Paddling with my mom and brother was a good thing, cause we rarely do that. It’s normally either mom and I on the river, or mom and my brother on the river. I love to paddle my Bellyak and  I enjoy it better when my mom and I get to paddle the river together. Going through the rapids and surfing the waves with Greg was fun. I wasn’t nervous, because I ran the Tuck with Adam and Jamie before the GCA trip. The high water day with Adam and Jamie was better than the low water day with Greg. The low water was harder than the higher water because there were a lot more rocks and I ended up flipping over a few times and hitting a rock with my knee and another one with my stomach. Neither one felt good. At the end of the trip, Mom took us to Manrique’s and I ate a lot of food.

Going on a paddling trip has some challenges because there are a lot of things I need help with when we get to the river, like getting my gear on, and getting to the water. I get carried on the Bellyak like it’s a stretcher.

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And the people who work at Smoky Mountain River Adventures are really nice and they lift me on and off the shuttle bus, and help carry me to and from the river. My mom appreciates all of the help they give her so I can get on the river.

photos by Tammy Lea and Barry Kennon, words by William Blakely

ADAPTIVE ATHLETE: BELLYAK REVITALIZES KYLE MORGAN

 

BELLYAK REVITALIZES KYLE MORGAN

Kyle Morgan led an active lifestyle — he pushed a skateboard, kayaked and rode motorcycles competitively. There was no action sport he wouldn’t try. But a bad decision in 2010 left him with a spinal cord injury, paralyzed from the shoulders down, with some movement in his arms but no fine motor control of his hands. Now considered a quadriplegic, his life was altered forever. He spent three years in a power chair, assessing and reassessing his life. One day, the chair broke down, stranding him in one place, helpless. For Kyle, that was rock bottom. He decided then that even if he was a challenged athlete, he was still an athlete.

A Challenged Athlete

He’d always exercised, but hadn’t done much of anything since the accident. When his chair got stuck, it reignited his desire for independence. Kyle talks about those early days: “I started pushing myself manually around my house in an old busted-up, raggedy hospital wheelchair.”Exercise drove him forward. Kyle regained so much strength that he competed in 5k races with a slightlyassisted manual chair. Now, he says, “I’m into fitness. I believe no matter what state you’re in, you can always be better.”

Bellyak and Adaptive Kayaking

Despite the success, he still missed the excitement of kayaking. As he tells it, “I thought my days of being on the river were over. I had a kayak, but couldn’t use it because… I couldn’t keep my balance or even grip the paddle.” He’d never heard of adaptive kayaking, and frankly, adaptive sports — active activities for challenged athletes — didn’t get much press coverage.A friend helped connect Kyle to Bellyak. Kyle remembers, “A kayaking buddy of mine found Bellyak’s Facebook page and shared it with me. From the moment I saw it, I knew I could use it.” Kyle reached out to Bellyak and built a friendship with owner Adam Masters. Adam was so intrigued by Kyle’s attitude that he lent him a Bellyak to try out. And just like that, adaptive kayaking in a Bellyak became a reality.

Prone Kayaking for Challenged Athletes

“It felt so good to get back on the water,” Kyle says. “The first time, in a pool, was incredible. The thing I liked about the experience was that no one could tell I was paralyzed. I paddled around just like anyone else would. I was having such a good time paddling around, I didn’t even realize the workout I was getting. After just 30 minutes, I could barely push myself back to my van.” Kyle loved the experience so much that he wants to share it. He’s been trying to organize a Bellyak group of others with spinal cord injuries. He tells them, “I get such a freeing feeling when I’m paddling around — it’s a feeling I thought I’d never experience again, so now I appreciate it all the more.”

In Training for a Real Adventure

Kyle gets to the pool as often as he can, but due to his injury, he still needs help getting in and out of his Bellyak. “One day, I want to feel comfortable hitting up a river,” he says. “That’s my overall goal. But for right now, I’ll stay in a pool and keep my wife’s anxiety level down. I’ve put her through enough with my adrenaline-fueled lifestyle.”

Adaptive sports, including adaptive kayaking, has helped revitalize Kyle’s attitude on life. It’s something he brings to his everyday life as well. “Just because I’m paralyzed doesn’t mean I’m going to live life differently,” he says. He’s learned to embrace his new life, appreciating each day and trying get as much as he can out of each moment.

Kyle’s new motto: “I may not have 100 percent, but I use 100 percent of what I have.”

Kyle Morgan is on Team Bellyak as an adaptive athlete and an active ambassador to help the differently-abled get on the water. Kyle is also “Chief Motivator.”

See Kyle’s story on video here.

 

Freedom on the River

I’m a seventeen year old adaptive athlete who uses a wheelchair. Paddling a bellyak has changed my life by giving me freedom from my wheelchair for a few hours and enabling me to get on the river and paddle with my mom and friends. I was born with cerebral palsy. Paddling a regular kayak is difficult for me because of the metal plates in my hips, and the spasticity in my leg muscles and paddling a bellyak makes it so much easier. After enjoying demoing the bellyak provided by founder Adam Masters, I decided that I wanted one. Well, Mom got me my own bellyak for Christmas last year. I’ve already taken it on the Cartecay and the metro hooch, and loved it. If I got the opportunity, I would like to take lessons from Adam on how to control my bellyak better, and anything else that Adam could teach me would be helpful for future trips down the river.10398371_1078199168903182_3467160380972423963_n

New Sport Challenges Paralysis

Kyle Morgan is a C5-6 quadriplegic due to an automobile accident in 2010. Pre -injury he was an outgoing young man seeking a career in the U.S Army. After one night of celebrating his life was torn into pieces. “The most challenging part about dealing with paralysis isn’t that you can’t walk anymore, it’s not being able to do any of the things I used too.” Kyle said. “I was always outdoors and involved in sports, after my accident I thought all those days were over.” After two years of being bound to a fully power assisted wheelchair Kyle had enough. He moved from a small town in Western North Carolina to the states capitol of Raleigh. He began physical therapy and pushed himself daily. He graduated to a slightly power assisted manual chair and didn’t stop there. He began playing Murder Ball (Wheelchair Rugby) but due to the cost of the sports equipment and travel expense he had to put it on hold. That set back didn’t stop him though. He came across a new sport called Bellyaking and reached out to the CEO Adam Masters. “When I saw the Bellyak I knew I could use it.” Kyle said, “I always loved swimming pre injury but afterwards being a quadriplegic I felt as if swimming was a thing of the past.” Adam liked Kyles attitude so much heåÊ lent him a Bellyak to try out. “The moment I got in the Bellyak and was pushed into the water I felt comfortable and actually very safe.” Kyle said, “Due to the Bellyak having a low center of gravity the boats are incredibly stable.åÊ I was unaware of the workout I was getting until after about 30 minutes when I got into my chair I couldn’t push myself back to my van.” Kyle said, “It was by far the best workout I’ve ever had.” The best part about the Bellyak stepping into the adaptive sports community is its very cost efficient. Sports such as Handcycling, Murder Ball and wheelchair basketbal cost around $3,000 to start. Conversely, a Bellyak with paddle gloves and a rear skeg (fin) is $695 out the door. On top of it being new to the world of adaptive sports, Adam Masters is making minor adjustments to make it more comfortable for those with skin issues. These boats are ready to use right off of the shelf.

The Bellyak is new to the adaptive sports world. Will it be a success? Well here’s a success story with it. What are your opinions about the Bellyak? You can post your comments to the Bellyak Facebook Page or to Kyles personal fitness Facebook page called iWheel.

Team Adaptive Bellyak: Ian Engle

 

Ian Engle and Pop Geisen discussing the river.

There are lots of inspirational posters and sayings about “when life hands you lemons make lemonade,” and “when you fall down, get back up” etc. There are few people who embody this spirit on a day to day basis more fully than Ian Engle of Steamboat Springs CO.

Ian was a division 1 wrestler at Michigan State in the early 90’s. He liked high adventure and would jump out of a fourth floor window into a nearby tree, then climb to the ground. As long as he stuck the landing, no problem. However, gravity has no mercy, and one day Ian missed the landing, hitting a big limb on the way down and shattering his pelvis and severing his spine. This left Ian paralyzed from the waist down, and having to navigate the rest of his life in a wheelchair. But this didn’t mean his life of adventure was over, just shifting gears.

I met Ian at the No Barriers Summit in Telluride Colorado last summer. No Barriers is a semi-annual conference for people with all types of disabilities to come together in the spirit of creativity and courage to try new things, and to live by the motto “What’s inside of you is stronger than what’s in front of you.” We were there as part of the vendor village and participating in the on-water demos for adaptive paddling. If you ever get a chance to be around this community, you will be instantly humbled, inspired and filled with gratitude, and never look at disability the same way.

We’ve had many folks with different types of disability use the bellyak, but primarily on flat water. Since the bellyak is a “lie on top,” it’s really easy to use for people with paralysis, lower limb amputation, etc. Not many “differently-abled” folks have used the bellyak on whitewater though (to my knowledge). This was about to change. Ian came through Asheville recently with his dog Zuma, and we went out on the French Broad River near our shop. Ian rode his off-road wheelchair down several railroad tie steps to the river and got in the bellyak with minimal assistance.

Ian Engle on his way to the river.

Way steeper than it looks! Ian rolling the steps down to the river.

 

I was there to help if he needed it, but for Ian, adapt and overcome is the name of his game. For his first try in the bellyak, I used a Play 35 with a prototype fin to help the boat go straight on the flat water. After about one minute of getting used to the feeling of the boat, Ian was off, with me trying to keep up. However, flat water wasn’t going to cut it for Ian.

Ian Engle

Ian getting in the Play 35 with a little help from his best friend Zuma.

It was obvious that Ian was ready for more…so he came back a few days later while we were having a Team Bellyak campout and stayed with us at Hot Springs Campground. The next day we met our friend Spencer Cooke and Kyle Thomas who helped run safety for us. Ian was fired up, and for the first time in my life I was nervous on the Pigeon, as I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t want my friend to get his legs banged up, or hurt his tailbone in the river (both big concerns with paraplegics). Ian reminded us that he was from Colorado and our little ol’ class III river wasn’t gonna be any kind of problem for him. So I believed him and we went boating.

Ian on the Pigeon

Ian Engle with his game face on.

Once on the water…we were all equal. No one could tell that Ian was by ADA standards, handicapped. He just looked like a dude with huge shoulders and skinny legs with four bellyaks and two kayaks chasing him down the river.

For the Pigeon, he used the Play 45 (stock, no adaptations). I chose the Play 45 for him because it’s much more forgiving in cross currents than the Play 35 (which is more high performance for surfing, etc., or for lighter people). We lowered Ian down the bank in the bellyak, and it was game on. One thing about Ian…he has a whole lot of muscle in his upper body. Once he took off, he was off! It was all I could do to keep up with him. Ian flipped in the first mile, but with a little bit of assistance from me stabilizing his boat, he was back on and cruising in seconds. That’s one of the benefits of the bellyak: swims that in a kayak would be ordeals are just brief moments of cooling off before easily getting back on the boat. No skirts, no straps, no paddle, no boat full of water equal less problems and more fun.

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One of the few times I was in front of Ian

The boogie water went by quickly, Ian ran the bigger rapid of the day, Lost Guide, and barely got his hair wet. Another quick swim after running the meat of Double Reactionary, but otherwise a perfect run. Towards the end of the run Ian had the boat dialed in and was able to read and run on his own…leaving us all in the dust. I finally had to tell him to turn around and paddle upstream. Only by having him paddle up river were we able to get a break! When we made it to the takeout, Ian Geisen, Team Bellyak chief recruiter gave Ian a piggy back ride out of the water. We unanimously decided to sponsor Ian, and sent him home with a green Play 45.

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Ian Engle and Ian Geisen: Two headed Ian

There are certain days on the river that stand out above all others. Perhaps it’s running a hard rapid for the first time, or nailing a trick you’ve been working on, or maybe it’s the chemistry of the group you’re with. Maybe it’s seeing a familiar run through the eyes of a first timer, and seeing their joy. Taking Ian Engle down the Pigeon River was by whitewater standards a very tame run, but for us, one of the most memorable days any of us have spent on the water. Or as Pop Geisen said “experiences like that are the next best thing to positive cash flow.”

 

 

 

 

 

Not just for Fun, how the Bellyak helps the Differently-Abled

The National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) is aåÊtherapeutic,åÊrecreation organization, based in Denver Colorado. The NSCD has been one of the first rehab groups to use the Bellyak in a therapeutic setting. After attending the No Barriers Summit (adaptive sports gathering) in Telluride this summer, I realized there is no such thing as disabled, only differently abled.

The following is from Krista Dominguez, a therapist with the NSCD.

åÊ “We have been using the Bellyak in our program for several of our participants. A few that we have had success with have been people with spinal cord injuries, visualåÊimpairments (VI), and developmentally delayed individuals. åÊFor these individual cases, there are many reasons that the Bellyak has been a better option than a traditional kayak. åÊOne of our participants has no function of their muscles from their strum down due to a spinal cord injury. åÊHe wanted to paddle whitewater but had a hard timeåÊmaneuvering a kayak and wasn’t able to roll. åÊWe decided to introduce the Bellyak to him and he can now maneuver much easier, so much so that is all he wants to paddle now. åÊHe has more control of the boat in a prone position and it able to paddle whitewater with us.”

åÊ”We also put people with visual impairments on Bellyak because it takes away the fear of being trapped inside of a boat and thus they can maneuver more easily. åÊThese individuals can feel the water under them better and understand how to maneuver the boat with their hands. åÊSometimes teaching paddling to someone with a visual impairment can be hard because they can’t see the orientation of the blade or how the blade is moving in the water.”

“Individuals with developmental delays sometimes have a fear of being trapped inside the boat and are also afraid of what will happen if they flip upside down. åÊOnce again the Bellyak takes away those fears and they get to focus on the activity of kayaking instead of their fears. åÊWith these individuals we teach them paddling with their hands and also have them sit on the Bellyak and work on paddle skills. åÊThe Bellyak has been a great addition to our fleet of kayaks. åÊWe use them on a weekly basis with much success and are excited toåÊcontinueåÊto use them with the individuals I have mentioned and many more.”