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Accessible Exercise and Recreation

by Andrew Leibs

Tandem cycling
For people who want to be outside and moving, cycling can be made accessible with tandem bikes (on which blind cyclists race in the Paralympics). The front cyclist on a tandem, called the pilot, needs good vision, agility, and patience. The rear cyclist, called the stoker, needs only energy and trust.

Mounting a tandem can be tricky for both parties. Normally, the pilot stands over the crossbar and steadies the bike while the stoker climbs on. When the stoker is set, the pilot pushes off and begins to pedal as if on a single bike. If the stoker is blind, the pilot should communicate what is ahead on the bike’s path, including hills, bumps, and turns.

Accessible recreation providers — businesses and organizations that provide specialized training, adaptive equipment, and recreational opportunities for persons with disabilities — may give the opportunity to try a tandem before buying one. The Schwinn Tango ($599) is among the least expensive tandems and may be a good place to start. The United States Association of Blind Athletes (www.usaba.org), which fields the U.S. Blind Cycling Team, can help interested blind cyclists find pilots.

Kayaking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors while getting a workout that strengthens the shoulders, arms, back, and abdominal muscles. It requires good balance but no use of the legs. For people with vision loss, there are tandem kayaks that, like tandem bikes, are a great way to have a more collaborative and worry-free workout. Opportunities to try kayaking exist through camps, adventure learning outfitters, and many parks and other recreation providers. Kayaks range in price from $400 to $3,000. The Pelican Pursuit 140T ($499) is an inexpensive tandem kayak suitable for lakes and ponds.

Nordic skiing
Nordic skiing is considered one of the most effective cardiovascular exercises, working the entire body.

One of the most successful accessible recreation programs is Ski for Light, a weeklong program that pairs people with vision or mobility impairments with guides to learn cross-country skiing. Those who have mobility impairments can use sit-skis, with which only the arms are used for propulsion. Guides in the program teach proper technique and describe the surroundings for blind participants. Ski for Light is headquartered in Minnesota, but its annual flagship event moves among major US Nordic ski areas. It holds yearly events in Provo, Utah, with the next scheduled being February 5, 2012.

Ski for Light draws hundreds of skiers from many countries, with abilities ranging from beginner to Paralympian. Participants learn at their own pace in a highly supportive environment that features a host of social activities, including a talent show and an authentic Nordic race at the end of the week. However, while the race is officially timed, skiers compete primarily with their own predicted finish time.

As an alternative to specific programs, most Nordic ski centers rent cross-country ski equipment and offer individual instruction. For those who would like to start in the backyard or on a nearby field, many recreation centers and adventure learning outfitters also rent skis.

Walking, jogging, running
Walking is the most popular exercise in the world and can provide one of the simplest fitness programs for beginners. It works large muscles to burn calories, enhances aerobic fitness, and increases insulin sensitivity. If done after a meal, it can also curb blood glucose spikes.

It’s easy to set walking goals based on either time or distance and then to chart progress; this can be great for motivation. Walking can also be an opportunity to socialize if done with a regular partner or group.

Most 5K road races welcome walkers, and such events can be a great source of motivation as well as a chance to meet other exercisers. Participating as a walker in a 5K may even encourage you to incorporate some jogging intervals into your walks.

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