Kristen O’Toole has been using a wheelchair since she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2014. She never thought she’d be riding a bike again. Or bowling. Or rowing.
Thanks to the Halifax Health/Brooks Rehabilitation Adaptive Sports and Recreation program, O’Toole rides a recumbent tandem bike on the Lehigh Trail in Palm Coast with her sister, Megan Noble. She’s also bowling, and now she wants to try rowing.
The program offers a variety of activities in the Volusia/Flagler area for adults and children with any sort of impairment, “from diabetes to amputation to stroke to brain injuries,” said Kristina Seiple, the program’s founder and coordinator. And it’s all free.
“I haven’t done anything like this since 2014. I never thought I’d be able to do anything like this again. It’s immeasurable what this program does.”
Programs include bowling at Ormond Lanes alternating with billiards at Uncle Waldo’s in Daytona Beach on Fridays; on-water rowing and erg rowing at the Halifax Rowing Association; yoga, tai chi; kayaking and surfing in New Smyrna Beach. Halifax Health/Brooks also hosts special events, such as Tortugas baseball nights.
Once a month, Brooks Adaptive Sports in Jacksonville brings down a variety of bikes to Ralph Carter Park in Palm Coast, and the participants ride the Lehigh Trail.
“This is one of our most popular events,” Seiple said. “It’s absolutely amazing.”
It’s so popular, there was a waiting list of six people for the April 27 ride. Ann Popik and Dan Caldwell of Brooks brought down 14 bikes from Jacksonville and helped Seiple and fellow coordinator Kaitlyn Waite get everybody situated on their bikes for the two-hour ride.
There were tandem bikes and hand cycles and recumbent bikes adapted to participants’ needs with right-side handles or left-side handles for those who don’t have the use of one side of their body.
Seiple and Waite, who are both therapists, ride with the participants. The trail is a half mile from the park. The riders do a three-mile loop on the trail. Some can ride it three times, others do it twice.
“I have a couple (of riders) in their early 20s who just go out there and go back and forth,” Seiple said.
Jess Cusimano, 25, has been participating in adaptive sports cycling as well as rowing, yoga, kayaking and surfing for the past four months since moving to Florida from New Jersey.
“I love adaptive sports. It’s changed my whole life. It’s great to be able to meet people and get out and feel free. Life is no longer less than it can be. It’s the same as it was before with a couple of added steps.”
She has been in a wheelchair for eight months with Dystonia, a neurological condition that affects the right half of her body. On April 27, Cusimano, a former runner, was trying out a racing cycle.
“I love adaptive sports,” she said. “It’s changed my whole life. It’s great to be able to meet people and get out and feel free. Life is no longer less than it can be. It’s the same as it was before with a couple of added steps.”
Jean Allen was riding a tandem bike with her husband, David. She’s been in a wheelchair since she had a “failed” knee replacement in 1999.
“This is a good transition for patients who have finished therapy but still want to be active,” Seiple said.
O’Toole moved to Palm Coast from Pittsburgh in September.
“There’s nothing like this in Pennsylvania,” she said. “I haven’t done anything like this since 2014. I never thought I’d be able to do anything like this again. It’s immeasurable what this program does.”
O’Toole and Noble played tennis together when they were in high school. Now, the monthly trail ride is an activity they can enjoy together.
“It’s so awesome to be outdoors,” Noble said. “There’s such a great trail system in Palm Coast. It’s flat, shaded and feels safe. Why not take advantage of it?”