Local organization aims to empower wheelchair users with the wonder of whitewater.
Behind every non-profit there’s at least one driven, talented founder willing to make sacrifices to chase their vision. For Society of Inclusion and Participation (SiP) Global Adventures, that guy is Dave Calver.
Calver—an avid paddler, occupational therapist, and wheelchair user—has recently launched SiP, a Comox Valley-based group that teaches youth and adults with disabilities to whitewater kayak.
Whether he’s whitewater kayaking, helping communities around the world become mobility friendly, or driving TacoSusio (his converted Tacoma “adventuremobile”) to the southernmost tip of South America, Calver tears down barriers every day, and is passionate about helping others do the same.
Since his 2002 spinal cord injury due to a mountain bike accident, he’s become passionate about improving life for others with paralysis (who he calls his “brothers and sisters”).
For well over a decade, Calver has coupled his occupational therapy background with unique insights into the challenges facing people with paralysis to create change in developing countries. He’s helped numerous wheelchair users get better mobility, and does this by training local therapists, modifying wheelchairs, and advocating for more mobile-friendly communities.
In 2018, he became co-founder of Participant Assistive Products, a social enterprise that aims to bring affordable mobility products to the world. Think lightweight, comfortable, adaptable wheelchairs that can handle all kinds of rugged, rural terrain, and environments from the tropics to the mountains to the desert.
SiP is the latest of Calver’s initiatives. After spending 30 years guiding rivers across the globe and making friends in the paddling and rafting industry, it was only natural for him to choose whitewater paddling as the organization’s first focus. Kayaking played an important role in his recovery and he realized it could help others, too.
The amazing thing about kayaking for someone with limited lower extremity function is that, once they’re settled into the boat, they have almost the same function as someone without disabilities. It allows free and easy movement—something not easily found for wheelchair users.
The current plan is for SiP to offer five-day sessions where participants spend all day on the water and attend neuro-rehabilitation workshops in camp each night. These five days will help participants develop the skills they need not just to survive, but to thrive, with their disabilities—and smash the barriers present in their lives.
SiP is just getting started, but groups are already booked for its 2021 programs. Meanwhile, Calver’s securing gear partners, writing training programs, and developing relationships with paddling schools, disability organizations, and rehabilitation centres across the country.
Calver’s excitement and energy are contagious. Most of his sentences start with “What if?” in the best way possible. “What if we grow SiP into a non-profit that funds programs in developing countries around the world that otherwise couldn’t afford them?” “How can we reach groups of people dealing with different disabilities who would gain from the experience of whitewater kayaking?” “What if it’s not only whitewater kayaking, what if we move to another sport later, too?”
When asked why he’s so excited about whitewater kayaking that he’s developing an entire non-profit around it, he explains: “Rivers provide the ultimate environment to push oneself, test one’s limits, and drag oneself out of one’s comfort zone. Moving water is a huge fear for most, and yet the same river offers the best place for reflection, peace, and a sense of calm.”