Bay area watersports now accessible to all

12:09 AM, May 16, 2009   |    comments
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Jen French is a member of the U.S. Disabled Sailing Team

ST. PETERSBURG - Since the city added handicap-accessible features to the Sailing Center at Demens Landing Park, it's been recognized as setting the "world standard" in adaptive sailing centers, according to one of the country's top disabled sailors.

"When you're introduced to a disability you see how inaccessible the world really is," said St. Petersburg resident Jen French, a member of the U.S. Disabled Sailing Team.  "But when you find a place that has made the proper adaptations, it makes the sport so much more enjoyable and you can just leave that barrier behind and concentrate on enjoying the sport instead."

French, who became a quadriplegic in 1998 when she was injured in a snowboarding accident, now helps others with disabilities take advantage of the center's unique lifts, ramps and handicap-accessible amenities.

"We with disabilities can get out and race alongside able-bodied people," she said, adding that she sails alongside amputees, stroke victims and even blind sailors.  "We're all sailors when we're on the docks and that's the fun thing. It makes us completely integrated with able-bodied people in a sport."

French has helped the St. Pete Parks & Recreation Department's Theraputic Recreation division hold several watersports expos to get new people with disabilities - physical and developmental - on the water for the first time.

"We do a sport and leave all our medical equipment behind," she said. "And we get out on the water and do a sport that is extremely enjoyable using adaptive equipment instead of medical equipment."

On Saturday, French will participate in another big event - an adaptive kayak and waterskiing clinic on Lake Seminole in Pinellas Park.  It runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.  For more information, email

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Noah Pransky, 10 Connects

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