RED OAK — Scores of people ranging from age 9 through middle age and from all across Texas refuse to let physical handicaps stand in the way of their enjoying a day on a lake and water skiing in Ellis County.
And they turned out for just that purpose during a special event Saturday, one of five held this year at Pecan Cove Ski Lake. Measuring 2,000 feet long, about 300 feet wide and about 6 feet deep in most places, the 10-acre lake is located near Red Oak Creek and owned by Blaine Bridgford of Red Oak, who resides just a few feet away.
“My family has always been real big in water skiing,” Bridgford said. “But because my wife’s sister has spina bifida, we started looking into an outfit in Houston years ago that specialized in adaptive water skiing - and we became involved in the program and started volunteering in it.
“We became a part of the Health South Sports Program about 10 years ago,” he said. “We helped Health South to put on therapeutic recreation events and as that program started to faded out, we started doing our own program up here and it just took on its own identity.”
According to information published by the organization, Blaine and Belynda Bridgford, founders of Metroplex Adaptive Water Sports, conduct low-cost clinics for all levels of skiers and provide water skiing services for other programs and events. Their nonprofit organization is also a division of the South Wheelchair Athletic Association, based in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
“Several local companies donate funds to our program and Stadium Yamaha of Irving and Waterski America/Malibu Boats of Dallas, provides boats and equipment,” Bridgford said. “We also have many volunteers who come out here and donate several hours driving the boats and assisting the skiers.
“It’s been nothing short of a miracle that we have all this equipment,” he said. “So many people have donated the cages which bolt to the special Comp 1 and Freedom skis - there are very few companies that produce those cages.”
Word-of-mouth and other contacts have helped spread news about the program to potential participants, Bridgford said.
Jamie, 15, of Howe, Texas, who has a mild case of cerebral palsy, was one of the participants in the Saturday ski event.
“When Jamie first started skiing, he was very cautious, but now he just gets out there and skis like anybody else,” volunteer Tom Bugg said. “This program does wonders for their confidence and self-esteem.
“We will start a skier out slowly on a ski with an extra protective cage and as they progress and get stronger and more coordinated, we try them on something a little more challenging,” he said.
Bugg and another volunteer, Rick Phelan, have a system for pulling the skiers.
“We give air-horn signals for skiers like Melissa, who is almost blind, to alert her when we are about to make a 180-degree turn at the end of the lake,” Phelan said.
Bugg and Phelan are also on hand to assist skiers to get positioned back on the ski if they take a fall.
“I was quite athletic before my accident,” said Shawn Braswell of the Houston area, who has been paralyzed from mid-chest down because of an accident 19 years ago.
“I played a lot of tennis and I had no idea that I would ever be able to be involved in anything athletic again,” Braswell said. “But this adaptive ski program has really given me a new lease on life.”
For more information on adaptive skiing or the Pecan Cove Ski Lake, contact Blaine Bridgford at (214) 803-9955 or visit online at www.youcanski.org.
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