In May this year one of our first videos we published featured the courageous journey of Jen Ridley, paralysed from the waist down who is currently pushing the limits, and our perspective, of what is possible with a kite and a whole lot of determination.
What she is doing should be an inspiration to us all who give up on pursing our dreams at the first obstacle, and so now it is time to find out a little bit more about Jen and her ambitions for altering our perspectives.
KSm: Hi Jen, can you please introduce yourself to our readers.
Jen: Hey Guys, I am Jenny! I’m 28… I currently based in northern Ireland but I am originally from Redcar in the North East of England. I am a little outside the box, I have my dreams, I have my passions, I have my life experiences that have made me who I am today…
So a little about me: Wind & Water/Buggy = Happy Jenny! Simple.
I have been into sport and the outdoors all my life, I had a sporting accident when I was young and was left paralysed. After an entry back into school life made interesting by steps, teachers who wanted me to “sit on hard plastic seats” to look normal and all made easier by a group of mates who would happily steel a wheel at an opportune moment I then moved on to university….
At University I studied Sports Science and Biomechanics. I have been involved in a variety of outdoor and water sports. I am a Strength & Conditioning coach, I specialise in injury rehabilitation, Pulmonary and Cardiac rehabilitation. I also am a senior Pilates instructor, one day I will bring my love of fitness, wind and the ocean together.
KSm: If you don’t mind can you tell our readers how you arrived in your situation?
humour is what breaks barriers that make people relax and know its ok to ask questions
Jen: So KiteSista, the answer to your question is : because my legs don’t work! Haha, I can feel the eyes rolling from here.Sometimes humour is what breaks barriers that make people relax and know its ok to ask questions, but preferably not stupid ones, there have been a few over the years that have provided hours of laughter!
…Ok so seriously I was playing sport, I tripped and fell face down. Someone else tried to catch the post and missed. They landed on top of the post that was laid on my spine. I broke my neck and back in 2 places. I was walking after my accident but I remember being in a lot of pain but I didn’t know where the pain was. Over 3 weeks I was back and forward to A&E trying to getting checked. I visited A&E on January 14th 1994 because I could no longer carry things in my hands and I would fall over when trying to walk, after hours of laid on a bed a doctor threw open the blue curtain, stood over me, hand on my shoulder and said your fine now, he then sat me up with his hand on my neck. In that moment the pressure in my neck gave way, my spinal cord severed and I paralysed, I landed on the floor in a pile. I don’t remember a lot of this, the only part I recall is the blue curtain and the thud when I hit the floor. Everything else is black…. The doctor was never to know my spine was broken, it could of gone at any time…. Maybe it would have been less severe if caught earlier but that’s not a useful thing to focus energy on!
I was paralysed from the neck down, after 2 years 7 months of hospital treatment, a Halo brace drilled into my skull (You’ll never watch SAW in the same way!), sedated for 9 months and then rehabilitation, I had my breathing and hand function back! I had to learn everything from breathing to getting dressed, all those things we learn to do as a child I had to re-learn all over again with the added challenge of being paralysed, unable to balance to sit and in pain 24/7…. And to many times spent sitting on the bed, huffing, because for 3 hours the millionth time in a row of attempting to put 2 socks and 2 shoes on they’d fallen off AGAIN! I only wanted to go get a DVD from the cupboard but that was the deal with my physio, socks on before fun, some would call it soul destroying rehabilitation but its what you must do to be able to live not just survive.
KSm: Once you had mastered every living on wheels, what on earth made you decide that it was time to start attaching yourself to a kite?
Jen: I had seen kite surfing when I was travelling in Australia and Spain, and it just looked so graceful and powerful. I fell in love there and then, I then have spent a lot of years trying to be in this sport. Trying to find instructors to teach me and equipment I could use – but there was none until now! So for 6 years I watched from the beach…. In my head I new what to do, now equipment is available to allow me and others to kite alongside you! I have been lucky to meet some amazing people on my journey so far, some that I know will be friends for life…. I have had the inspiring opportunity to meet a Greek German guy called Alex Feretos, paralysed after a motorbike accident 3 years ago which left him in a coma for a month…. The last memory he recalls is a happy one of being sat on the beach. He now is on the same route as I am, we have the same dream and understand challenges we face on a daily basis and have decided to be a team and work together to achieve our goals of being independent seated kitesurfers! We both have a competitive nature so it could get interesting….Girls always rock though!
KSm: What were the greatest obstacles that you encountered both physically and socially as you started to realise the task ahead of you?
Jen: The greatest obstacles would be people’s closed views, impressions and assumptions that I would not be able to control safely a complex sport like kite surfing without them even knowing my disability, strengths or even if I could walk or not ( I cant but you get what I mean) …. Socially I think human nature determines that we are curious of others, but there are the exceptions that have views that are simply close minded!
Physically our greatest obstacle has been finding ways to think outside of the box in selecting solutions for us to perform tasks such as inflating a kite or carrying equipment, often the simplest solutions are the best! For example an extension on the foot peg of our kite pumps so your wheel can sit on top to hold it down while you pump your kite up , or removing the foot pegs from a kite buggy and attaching a tear drop shape handle so we can steer and fly with one hand. We have also spent time becoming physically stronger in our athletic conditioning so our body’s can take the hits from kite surfing, everything from swim sessions to conditioning sessions to improve our strength and overall stability are performed so we are machines on wheels.
KSm: The next question that all of our kiting readers will want to know is about the equipment. Can you tell us a little bit about what you use and how you have gone about obtaining the means to your goals?
Jen: The equipment we need is the same as any kite surfer, really the only difference is that we need a specialised 100% Carbon fibre seats which goes on the kite board which allows us to have full control of ourselves, our balance and steering the kite, allowing the board to flex and allowing us to react with the movements rather than against it to hold an edge to go up and down wind. This seat is especially designed and tested for 8 years now from Christophe Martin who is paralysed after a sporting accident, a top level wake-board coach and now a seated kite surfer. The seats cost £3,500 each; we are currently attempting to raise the funds through charity events and looking for potential sponsors who would like to take this journey along with us. Once we get the seat we will be able to progress our levels and effectively further develop the concept. It has taken 4 years of epic fails in realising that kite surfing can not be performed on adapted wake-boarding equipment which is currently available. A lot of safety testing and procedures are in place to actually make the sport safe and allow independence even without the use of legs.
KSm: Have you been able to be involved in the research and development of the equipment or will you need to wait until you can get your hands on a seat to really see what you can do with it?
Jen: ….Until now we have undergone all necessary training required by all kite surfers to progress safely to the water, we have focused our skills around kite buggying as this is the direct next step for developing the independent pathway to the water for people like us with a disability.
The only big difference between wheelchair users and able bodied kite surfers is that we will be sitting while kite surfing, so the seat has been tested but in a size for someone else… imagine borrowing a friends harness who is twice your size or the opposite, then close your eyes so your balance is affected and off you go! I will be able to see what I can do with it …..Handle-pass did someone say ;-)
KSm: Do you face extra safety issues with buoyancy of yourself, the seat, and stability in the water (trying to remove the image of a capsized Jen, stuck in a seat, inverted in the water, from my mind )?
Jen: Haha…….well there have been a few of those moments in seats we have built ourselves, but my quick release speed has to be a world record but I always pop back up as I wear a buoyancy aid that rolls me to my back if I was ever to be unconscious for example. The 100% Carbon frame is extremely light and it floats on its own, there are safety devices to allow for ejecting ones self, so if I needed to eject it will come back to shore! The main reason for needing these seats is safety, there are options like placing a mono-ski ( a frame which Is used for snow-skiing) onto a twin-tip but they are so heavy it will sink like an anchor…plus constantly needing bigger kites to take the extra weight!
KSm: What do you think will be the limits of seat riding in terms of making jumps and tricks as you mentioned that you only wear a harness for un-hooked riding (which again has wonderful images going through my mind), or are you keen to push those limits and find out?
Jen: The only thing that limits us is ourselves…. The limits are endless if you’re willing to be outside the box.
KSm: What are you next steps in terms of achieving your goals and the resources required to do so?
This is the start of one epic journey for a world wide team of people that are showing limits are only in the mind
Jen: Right now we are focusing on fundraising events, we completed an Abseil with Team Build Ireland on the 20th of august from a viaduct in Northern Ireland, We are also doing a Tandem Skydive in Greece with FreeFall Greece as well as a few more bits and pieces in the pipe line….We are looking for potential sponsors that would like to help in anyways they can…This is the start of one epic journey for a world wide team of people that are showing limits are only in the mind.
You can sponsor us yourselves, run your own event on your local beach or at your local club. We have brought together a website for all of our videos and photos, and blog as well as latest happenings into our journey of kite surfing on the water for people with paralysis; you can contact us through our webpage or donate www.solokiting.com
KSm: Do you think this has the potential to be an accessible sport for others with physical restrictions or given the time, effort and pure determination you have had to put in both mind and body, this won’t be making an appearance in the Paralympics any time soon?
We want to give the motivation self believe and determination to other people in our situation
Jen: We believe this sport is possible for everyone, not only with the adaptive equipment now available but by the spirit within the worldwide kite community. We want to give the motivation self believe and determination to other people in our situation or simply kiters who no longer can kite standing due to leg injuries. It would not surprise us at all seeing kite surfing soon in the Paralympics now that Rio 2016 will hold the first Olympic kite surfing competition.
KSm: We would normally finish by asking you for some words of advice or motivation for our readers, but to be honest we feel a bit stupid because if your story alone does not inspire and motivate our readers then there is not much left to say, so, ..Instead, have a paragraph to say whatever you wish; we think you’ve earned it.
Jen: I think the only thing we would like to say to your readers is Thank you for reading our story and take a step back the next time your at the beach ready for an epic session and just be happy, forget all the insignificant things that we get bogged down with… because your happy, your breathing, your living. We are.
Sponsor us at www.solokiting.com …. Follow us on our blog and face book, and if you see us at the beach say Hi!
We would like to wish you all the best for your adventure and will certainly be keeping our readers updated with your progress.