Guest: Tony Anderson
Topic: WNY Adaptive Water Sports
Published: March 18, 2021
Host: Welcome to Independent Perspective In-Depth, a program presented in the public interest by the Western New York Independent Living family of agencies, courtesy of the Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service. Using this long format, we'll be exploring the broader issues affecting the community of people with disabilities in discussions with knowledgeable individuals from a variety of organizations and backgrounds.
We are delighted to have as our guest for today Tony Anderson, Co-Founder, Vice President and Trustee of Western New York Adaptive Water Sports. We are your hosts Jillian Moss Smith and Ernest Churchwell. Welcome to the program, Tony.
Guest: Thank you for the opportunity. Recreation is an important part of quality of life for individuals with disabilities, whether they be physical, cognitive, or a combination.
Host: Well, Tony, in your regular duties with the organization you wear multiple hats, what are some of your responsibilities there?
Guest: I work with creating public awareness, some of the programming, and program development. I work at fundraising and also grand acquisition, it's been a significant effort, especially with COVID to try to get funding to maintain the status quo and keep things growing.
Host: Can you tell us the history of Western New York Adaptive Water Sports?
Guest: We've been around for 15 years. Tom Noack and I started the Great Lakes Water Sport Institute 15 years ago, when somebody that sailed with him, who had MS was trying to get into a boat and ended up falling through between the dock and the boat. And at the same time, we were doing a scuba promotion at McKinley Mall. And what ended up happening is the gentleman who won the contest, rolled into our dive store in a wheelchair. At this point, Tom and I both looked at things, and it seemed as though it would be a great way to go, if we could provide programming locally for individuals with disabilities. At that point in time my wife and I were taking a program to become adaptive scuba instructors to help these folks. Tom and I put together, it started with a sailing program and some fishing opportunities. We got to be able to work out at Canalside for those and the system has grown from there to the waterskiing, tubing clinic, kayaking, and the scuba opportunity for folks with disabilities.
Host: It sounds as though you have indeed found several water centric recreational activities and made them available for specific participants with disabilities, and you just listed several of them, anything that was left out?
Guest: With water-based recreation, there's a lot of opportunities to go and whatever we can do to grow these is kind of where we're at.
Host: Great. So, you actually have two bases, one in Gallagher Beach on Fuhrmann Boulevard in South Buffalo, and the other at Canalside near downtown, and the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park. In 2020 New York State COVID-19 pandemic restrictions curtailed many activities, no doubt, including yours. Now in 2021 many of these limitations are lifting a little bit, but bearing, heaven forbid, a new Coronavirus surge, what activities are planned for each location?
Guest: Well, sailing and fishing historically have come out of Canalside, we've been given space down there to use, we've got a Hoyer Lift that allows us to get people on and off of both the sailboats and the pontoon we've had down there. The water ski clinics have worked out of Gallagher Beach. That's what I'll call a volunteer intensive operation and kayaking has been a little bit of everywhere. In 2020, we had limited sailing at Canalside, kayaking at various locations. The ski and pull or ski and tubing clinics, we cancelled at Gallagher Beach, primarily because of the restrictions that were put on us down there. In addition, all participation was limited due to COVID-19 concerns and individuals, not having the desire to go out and mingle in public, shall we say.
Host: Because of the nature of your activities, unlike businesses and doctors and whatnot, there's not a whole lot that you can offer in the way of Zoom meeting activities so I presume everything that you'll be doing in 2021 is an in person activity?
Guest: Yes, it is. As you said, you can’t very well go sailing on zoom; set up a camera let people watch, but all that would do is create a situation where they feel more intimidated as to missing a sailing opportunity, and in particular the try scuba things that we do, would make it difficult. Kayaking is not an issue, primarily because of the fact that we've got social distancing just by the nature of putting people in kayaks. So, that's kind of where we're at. And as soon as we have a pool open to us in the Buffalo area, we will be resuming adaptive scuba trying opportunities to see if people actually like it. It can be quite freeing and Todd from Western New York Independent Living has been in the pool twice with us, and really enjoyed it.
Host: That's awesome. What measures do you take to make each of these activities adaptive and for which disabilities?
Guest: Any physical activities. When somebody's got MS or CP where there's a physical issue, for the sailing and fishing we've got the higher left ramps and things like that to help them get on and off the boat. We can practice social distancing because we can keep people far enough away from each other on the boat. Kayaking, we have specially equipped kayaks, we have special seating, we have the outriggers and things like that. So that works out fairly well. For scuba as I said in the past, my wife and I have been trained and certified for adaptive scuba for over 15 years, and actually help the latest version of Scuba Schools International manual for adaptive reclassified scuba. So, that's not something new to the, to the realm of possibilities for us to do here.
Host: All right, well, for the benefit of any listeners who have joined our program in the last couple of minutes, I'll let them know that they're listening to Independent Perspective In-Depth, a program presented in the public interest by Western New York Independent Living. Our guest today is Tony Anderson, Co-founder, Vice President and Trustee of Western New York Adaptive Water Sports. We’ll continue exploring his organization's work to open new vistas for individuals with disabilities.
So Western New York Adaptive Water Sports collaborates with Team River Runner, which serves disabled veterans. How does your organization work with Team River Runner?
Guest: Okay, backing up a little bit, Western New York Adaptive Water Sports became a chapter of Disabled Sports USA about 13 or 14 years ago. And three years ago, we became a chapter of Team River Runner which is geared primarily toward disabled veterans. We operate as a chapter in both venues. The kayaking program, although primarily for veterans, it's open to anybody with a disability, based on our charter. The programming itself is quite extensive, and it's been quite successful in fact that 2020 was the most successful program we've had, of all of them naturally from last year because of the social distancing.
Host: It's our understanding that there are some other community organizations and groups that serve particular constituencies that WNYAWS has cooperated with in the past. Are these likely to resume this year and if so, what are they?
Guest: We intend to resume, any of the previous activities with other organizations as much as possible. Greater Buffalo Adaptive Sports located over at the grain elevators. We've participated when they've done some kayaking programs. We've gone over and provided some of our equipment. And we've also, when they have a kind of a trade operation over there, promoted all our mutual activities. For the previous years, we've worked with Western New York Heroes, Team RWB, done several programs with the Wounded Warrior Project, Dive Pirates, which is a national organization for disabled veterans and others. Besides these organizations, we also hope to provide programming in the future in conjunction with the Battle Within Foundation, which is trying to create public awareness and facilitate programming to help combat PTSD, for these individuals.
Host: Perfect. And do you anticipate, other than that last company that you'd mentioned, do you anticipate working with any other types of organizations?
Guest: We've worked with the School for the Deaf. We run programs for the local Blind Association. Any, not for profit or group that would like to participate in our water-based activities, we’re more than open to allow them to participate.
Host: A question that comes to mind, especially if you're dealing with things like scuba activities, we wonder, do any of your participants have to bring their own watersports equipment in order to take part?
Guest: The water sports equipment they have to provide as a bathing suit and towel and a sense of wanting a little bit of adventure in their life.
Host: That sounds logical for the sort of things you're doing all right.
Guest: Yes, one of the things, a lot of individuals depending on what their situation is may already have something like a life jacket or something like that that's, picked up specifically for them, and they own, they're more than welcome to bring those things, but it's not a necessity to be able to participate.
Host: That's good to know. So, for that matter, as you are a community organization rather than a business, do you take donations of equipment?
Guest: Yes, we do. We're a 501(c)3 not for profit. And, you know, within reason, anything that fits the description of equipment we may be able to use all donations are gratefully accepted.
Host: All right, well beyond the matter of equipment, what kind of financial support, do you get to keep your boats afloat. You've already mentioned something about grants.
Guest: Anything we can get. We rely on individual donations and grants to support the programs. We look for donations, we've had several foundation donations over the years. Funding is a never-ending issue for us as well as any of the other not for profits in the area. Because we're 100% volunteer and a relatively small operation compared to things like United Way and what have you, it makes it more difficult to, especially now with the problems that individuals are going through just making ends meet due to Covid, makes it a bit more challenging. But we're surviving.
Host: So how can people sign up to participate in your activities?
Guest: Okay. We will be sending out our 2021 program flyer in the next several weeks, and it's going to be on our Facebook page and the website also. Which is wnyadaptivewatersports.org, there's also Facebook, WNY Adaptive Water Sports or Western New York Adaptive Water Sports.
Host: You strike me as somebody who's always trying to find new ways that people with disabilities can participate in water centric activities. What plans have you made for the future development of your organization?
Guest: Well, we've for over 10 years we've had a goal of developing a waterfront location with easy access both by water and land, and between water and land also. We hope to add environmental education and establish an accessible permanent location where somebody can come, either by taxi with a group or someplace like People Inc. or come in by boat and be able to transition between the two. Learn some environmental education, and it's about personal growth and quality of life. If anything, we can possibly do to improve somebody's quality of life having a specific location that people can come to will make it a lot easier for people to participate.
Host: Tony, the thought occurs that you have such an exciting program there and you embrace individuals with disabilities much more than the average organization does, it's hard to believe that this would be the first time that you've been featured on a broadcast program. By any chance have any of the TV stations or like a national network come to see you yet?
Guest: No, well, Channel 7, about a year and a half ago, did a special when one of their reporters came to the pool, and we had Todd in the water with us. And there was a subsequent interview was part of those, you know, a two-minute blurb in the morning news, but it did get a lot of attention. There has to be a lot more public awareness for all the programs, and hopefully this will do something to spur that, hopefully it'll be more than what I'll call our clients, for lack of a better word, for them to be able to get involved as a participant. Anybody that wants to get involved as a volunteer. Volunteers are one of the things that we also need especially for things like the waterskiing tubing clinics, and the kayaking programs, where it becomes volunteer intensive. So, there's three segments to our operation. One is getting the funding and equipment put together. The second is getting the volunteers to help us make things happen. And the third is getting the awareness so we have the participants to come in and enjoy and share our passion for helping.
Host: So, Tony we've covered a number of your quality of life programs but are there any other ways in which you are serving the public in which you'd like to talk about today?
Guest: One of the things is, I'm a part of an advisory board for the Battle Within Foundation. This was started to help combat or make people aware of the issues that PTSD causes suicide in Veterans, first responders and other individuals because either what they had to do what they saw, or things in general, during their service, whether it be military or whether it be first responder. This issue is something that's rather like cancer was in the 60s, people don't want to talk about it. And if we can do something to make people aware or more aware of this situation, and learn how to talk with people, or work with people, so that we can prevent the daily loss of 22 lives with military individuals. My wife and I through Phoenix Scuba and Water Sports, have done some individual programming with the Wounded Warrior Project, and other organizations to help relieve and help improve the quality of life of these folks but it's mostly being able to put the issues behind them and know that there's help out there from friends, relatives organizations so that they can stay with us on this side of the grass, so to speak. These individuals have given of themselves either in the military or first responder to make us free, and to help the public good since the founding of the country. And it's rather like cancer was in the 60s people don't know how to talk about it. People just need to learn that it's something that needs to be addressed and that any individual who knows somebody with this affliction, can help just by being willing to talk to them.
Host: Perfect. So even after this long of a show, there are probably just additional questions that our listeners have about your organization, what is the best way to contact you to learn more?
Guest: There's a number of ways. My personal email is firstname.lastname@example.org. And if they put Adaptive Water Sports in the subject line. I'll know what it's for. They can call me at 716-310-4141, which is my personal cell phone. If you're somebody that wants to either donate, volunteer or participate and they want more information, they can go to our website which is www.wnyadaptivewatersports.org, they can like us on Facebook, they can call our event reservation line which is 716-364-8219, or they can email us for programming information at email@example.com. So, there's a number of ways, if they've got questions on what we're doing or how we can help, or if they want to get involved in the programming.
Host: Well you've given people a lot of avenues to reach you, and I'm sure that someone will. And may I say that we and all those listening are grateful for everything that Western New York Adaptive Water Sports does for citizens with disabilities. We thank you for being with us today.
Guest: Well thank you for the opportunity to help create public awareness for our programming, getting public awareness is difficult. At this point in time, you know, everybody hears 15 minutes of every hour talking about COVID on television. I'm not sure how much of an impact this interview will make, but I’m certainly grateful on behalf of our organization for your consideration to allow us to make it happen.
Host: Thanks very much. You've been listening to Independent Perspective In-Depth, a program presented in the public interest by Western New York, Independent Living family of agencies, courtesy of the Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service. Our guest has been Tony Anderson, Co-founder, Vice President, and Trustee of Western New York Adaptive Water Sports.
This program features the song A Little Ditty on the Dance Floor by Jay Lang available under Creative Commons Attribution non-commercial license.
We’ve been your hosts, Jillian Moss Smith and Ernest Churchwell. If you wish to hear this program again, a couple of days after the On Air broadcast, you can find a podcast on the Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Services web page, nfradioreading.org on the Programming tab, under Bonus Programs, and also on wnyil.org under Public Relations/podcasts. Have a good week, and be safe.