Athletes get on board with trying something new

2016 SONC Paddle Boarding (1)Stand-up paddle boarding has taken the nation by storm in recent years. Not only does it offer fitness benefits, such as improved core strength and balance, it also is relaxing and peaceful. And now Special Olympics North Carolina athletes are getting on board the new trend.

Charyl Clark, Special Olympics Guilford/Greensboro local coordinator helped to spearhead the introduction of standup paddle boarding as a locally popular sport.

At the 2016 SONC Leadership Conference, Clark and a few of her fellow local coordinators began talking in earnest about paddle boarding for Special Olympics athletes. While everyone agreed that it would be a great opportunity for the athletes, no one was really sure how to make it happen.

Luckily Barry Burgess, owner of Lake Norman Boards in Mooresville offered a solution. Shortly thereafter, six athletes and six volunteers, from Greensboro, High Point, Davidson County, and Cleveland County, all came together at Stutts Marina in Mooresville to learn from Burgess at no expense.

They all paddled out to the cove on their stomachs, and worked with volunteer trainers one-on-one for two hours. Dustin Edmondson, a Greensboro athlete, had feared he would not be able to do it. However, that was not the case.

“When I stood up for the first time on the board I was nervous,” described Edmondson. “I had to balance myself with the paddle and it was a little hard for me, but I did it.”

Like Edmondson, each athlete showed their determination while trying to master the paddle board and by the end of the two hours, every athlete had stood up on their board. The six athletes are not all from an aquatic background, but trying something new is what drew them to paddle boarding.

“I don’t have a lot of balance; it’s very hard for me to do that,” Edmondson explained. “That’s why I do sports that I feel comfortable with.  So trying something out of my comfort zone and being able to stand on the board was exciting for me. I could never ride a bike because of balance problems, so this was awesome.”

As for paddle boarding growing in popularity at the local level, Clark and the local coordinators are hopeful that the program will expand. The athletes who participated in the first paddle boarding experience are ready to go back again and bring even more people! Clark believes that by finding more places, like Lake Norman Boards, for athletes to learn and practice paddle boarding, the program will expand significantly and give more athletes a chance at this new experience.

“To see athletes who don’t think they can do it go for it and succeed is amazing. Many of them have just never had the opportunity to try something like this before,” said Clark.

How can local athlete interest start a new sport?

Local programs are welcome to offer a new sport if there is interest coming from their athletes, as has become evident with paddleboarding.  This sport would be recognized as a “locally popular sport,” rather than an official sport with SONC.  Some other locally popular sports in North Carolina are sailing and flag football. SONC can work with local coaches and athletes to secure and develop support documentation, such as rules and competition guidelines.  If participation and interest in the sport grows, there are steps for it to potentially become an official sport with SONC, which would then lead to state-level competition.

The increasing popularity of standup paddle boarding at the grassroots level is a great example of how sports can grow locally based on athlete demand. By allowing athletes to try something new and offering people new opportunities to be involved in the organization, locally popular sports are promising new avenues of growth for the Special Olympics movement. For more information about standup paddle boarding, contact Charyl Clark.

For a list of official Special Olympics sports, visit the Special Olympics Inc. website.

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