Lopez kayakers participate in circumnavigation of Vancouver Island with disabled athletes

“The wilderness seacoast is the overlooked slice of the wild.”

“The wilderness seacoast is THE overlooked slice of the wild.”

Rob Lyon is passionate about using kayaks to access unspoiled portions of our natural terrain. Lyon, along with Colin Doherty, helped orchestrate a 10-day trip to circumnavigate Vancouver Island with World T.E.A.M Sports, an international organization based out of Massachusetts that creates “soul-stirring experiences by teaming disabled athletes with able-bodied athletes.”

The team consisted of 10 people: three disabled athletes and seven able-bodied athletes, including Lyon and Doherty, who both live on Lopez. All of the athletes were from North America.

The purpose of the trip was to test-run the circumnavigation of 700-mile Vancouver Island. If the experience proved to be successful, World T.E.A.M. sports would base a larger trip on the model next summer. A member of the World T.E.A.M. board of directors saw Lyon’s website, highlighting his experience as a fly fisherman and outdoor guide, and contacted him to help plan the outing.

“We talked for about a year. It seemed viable that we could get disabled athletes out on the ocean.” Lyon handled the architecture of the field portion and Doherty, who is an experienced kayaker and owns Cascadia Kayak Tours with his wife Heidi Hernandez, organized and led the water component. Cascadia Kayaks provided all the gear, most of the kayaks, and planned meals. Doherty prepared all the food on the excursion.

After flying to western Canada, the team left its lodge in Campbell River on August 17 and took a four-hour ride in a van over logging roads to cross Vancouver Island and reach the Pacific Ocean. They then embarked on a two-hour water taxi ride to a small beach along the coast. From that point on, the team had to kayak its way to a base camp on the Brooks Peninsula.

“Most of the challenges were logistical. We got slammed by hurricane force winds off the Brooks Peninsula. They were over 70 mph. We weren’t going anywhere for three days. But that’s part of the experience,” said Lyon.

“I was excited to facilitate a kayaking and camping adventure for folks who had not experienced the wilderness in such a way before,” commented Doherty. “That beach had probably not seen any wheelchairs before. I also realized how important varied activities and sports were to the disabled athletes. Their drive, discipline and patience were inspiring to me.”

Among the disabled athletes on the trip were freelance journalist Bob Vogel from Sacramento, Calif., who was injured in a skiing accident and is now paralyzed from the waist down, Airman Josh Sharpe, from Pensacola, Fla., who is an inactive member of the U.S. Navy and has been paralyzed for 14 years, and Master Corporal Brett Ricard, an active member of the Canadian Army who lost his left leg in the line of duty.

“I have known about World T.E.A.M. sports since a friend of mine, Steve Ackerman (a T9 paraplegic), participated in a hand peddle bike ride around the world with them,” said Vogel. “I’ve always wanted the opportunity to get involved in one of their events. In June of this year, I was fortunate to participate in the World T.E.A.M. Sports REAL DEAL, a two-day, 10-team adventure race near Vail, Colo. I heard about the beta test for the kayak trip, was invited, and jumped at the chance.” Vogel also skis, teaches adaptive skiing, rides handcycles and off-road hand peddle mountain bikes, scuba dives, flies seaplanes and hang gliders, and is the dad of a seven-year-old daughter.

Vogel says the challenges of the trip were “a lot of unknowns – from how would we use the bathroom (a small plastic porta-pottie seat), to how stable the sea kayaks would feel. The real challenge was staying dry and staying warm in the high winds and driving rain. The other challenge was to get used to the fact that until mother nature decides to let up – and it could have been another five days – we just had to make the best of it and enjoy nature’s fury, which was fun in an interesting way. The best parts of the trip were seeing the amazing scenery! Being truly “out there” on our own was a real adventure. Catching fish was great as well. It was also great to take time to really get to know the very interesting people on the trip. A three-day storm gives you plenty of time to share stories.”

Sharpe echoed Vogel’s sentiments. “The best part was being out on the water with such a great group of guys from different backgrounds. And I liked knowing I was right there on the Pacific coast in the middle of nowhere. Seeing a bear and an eagle was also cool!”

World T.E.A.M. Sports is considering the options for a kayak trip next summer, which will most likely be journey that would start in Seattle and end in Vancouver where the winter Olympics will be staged. It will incorporate international athletes, and Lyon, Doherty, Vogel, and Sharpe all plan to participate.