Sunday, July 23, 2000

Operation Challenge helps disabled

Kids ride over water

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Sure, Jeff Elkus was nervous as they placed him in the specially designed seat affixed to the wide ski that would carry him swiftly across the surface of East Fork Lake.

(Mike Simons photos)
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        Jeff, 16, who lives in Montgomery and has muscular dystrophy, had never done anything quite like this before — water ski. Towed by a power boat across the water.

        But Jeff's mother, Nancy Elkus, might have been even more nervous. She stood onshore and watched as her son zipped along the waves, leaving a foamy wake. She watched from shore as Jeff got smaller and smaller the farther out on the lake he traveled.

        This is a really big lake, she thought to herself.

        From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and today, youths with disabilities were able to experience the thrill of water-skiing and riding aboard Jet Skis on East Fork Lake in Clermont County.

        Operation Challenge was held by the Cincinnati Recreation Commission and its division of therapeutic recreation, which provides recreational and athletic opportunities to youths with disabilities. Instructors from Disabled Sports USA and Kawasaki Motors Corp. sponsored the program, providing instruction in adaptive water-skiing.

        More than two dozen disabled people signed up for the program through CRC, said Heidi Bunker, program coordinator for the CRC division. CRC now plans to make it an annual event. It was an opportunity to participate in an activity that once was a strictly spectator sport.

        “It's freedom for a lot of them to get out and go fast,” Ms. Bunker said. “They see themselves doing something they wouldn't otherwise get to do. These kids didn't get these opportunities. We hope to provide that.”

        Jan Plessner, with Kawasaki in California, said this is the seventh year Kawasaki has been involved with Operation Challenge.

        “The whole point is that water is a terrific equalizer,” Ms. Plessner said. “You don't have to be able-bodied to enjoy the water. And if you can do this, you can do anything.”

        Throughout the day Saturday, instructors took disabled kids water-skiing and for rides on Jet Skis while parents watched from shore.

        KelLe Malkewitz, a coordinator with Disabled Sports USA from California, was going over hand signals with Ben Rinsky, 14, who lives in Montgomery and has Downsyndrome.

        Thumbs up signals the boat to go faster, thumbs down, slower. Tapping the top of the head means return to the beach. Ben had it down.

        “It's dangerous,” Ben said.

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        His mother, Ellen, felt reassured that Ben acknowledged the water is no place to be complacent.

        “I'm glad he said dangerous,” Ms. Rinsky said. “Because he's pretty fearless.”

        Kevin Hosea, 15, who lives in Loveland, has spina bifida and is an accomplished athlete. None of this was new to him. On Saturday, he water-skied twice and went for a ride on the Jet Ski. He started swimming when he was 5, and he plays basketball and participates in wheelchair races.

        “He's had some good opportunities,” said his mother, Cathe. “He does more than most kids. We want him to know there's no limitations in life.”

        Jeff Elkus returned to the beach. He was carried to his wheelchair at water's edge.

        “It was awesome!” he said. “I didn't know if I'd be able to keep my balance and stay above water. There were some rocky spots. I wish it lasted longer.”

        When Nancy Elkus learned of Operation Challenge, she didn't know whether to tell Jeff about it. She did, and Jeff wanted to try it.

        “He became a dot out there,” she said, recalling her emotions when he the boat pulled away from the shoreline. “I was concerned. Now I'm thrilled. I think it's great he faced his fears and had the guts to do it.”


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