People paddle board for many reasons; lately I have been boarding for the athletes in the SUP Special Olympics. Stand Up Paddle (SUP) Boarding has many health benefits, and everyone should experience this fun, new sport. Special Olympics is a program for individuals with special needs to participate in competitive sports. The first SUP Special Olympic Race was held in Key West last year. After hearing about the race, I knew that there would be athletes in our area that would benefit from a local team. I decided to start a SUP training program for both Sarasota and Charlotte counties in Englewood, Florida.

After making this decision, I had a lot of work ahead of me. I attended a SUP Special Olympic Coach training in Key West in January. Then the planning began! As the Head SUP Coach, it’s my role to plan out trainings to ensure success. I knew that planning SUP trainings for the Special Olympics would require a lot of work. I enlisted the help of my mom, Theresa Miers, a Speech-Language Pathologist, and her co-worker Elaine Longobardi ,an Occupational Therapist. Together we planned out effective SUP training sessions.

Basic Safety

When developing a training program safety was the utmost concern. Paddle boarding can be a ton of fun, however, some might not realize all of the planning to ensure a safe experience. Unlike kayaking, your body acts as a sail while paddle boarding ,which can make it difficult to progress and easy to turn the wrong direction. Therefore, learning certain paddle strokes for navigating is very important. To ensure that the athletes could not drift away while learning how to paddle there were two leashes on the board. One was attached to the athlete, and other to an anchor to hold the board in place during practice. Safety lessons are also taught on how to retrieve the paddle, and how to fall off the board safely into the water.

Training Location

Choosing a safe location was also a major consideration. Stump Pass Beach State Park was chosen for several reasons. This state park offers inshore and Gulf-side access, making it the ideal training location. If the gulf is too rough, the inshore is available as a backup option. It also allows our athletes to start training in the calm waters of Lemon Bay before ever going out into the gulf. There’s no launching from docks at this location, just clean entry into the water, which is perfect for safety when learning. The lack of obstacles and open water provides the best training location in Charlotte County for our athletes.

SUP Training Practices

When I first met the athletes in May, none of them had ever been on a paddle board. Before ever having a water session, we started off with activities on the beach. We practiced paddle strokes, and how to stand up properly on the board right on the beach. The first water trainings were very basic. The athletes were introduced to paddling and switching hands with the paddle. For safety purposes every water activity was always one-on-one, with each athlete paired with a volunteer.
Athletes now practice the prone, kneeling, and standing positions on the board. Each training practice is designed for gradual success, building on skills needed for the SUP Race in October. All SUP Special Olympic athletes in our training program can stand up and paddle on their own board. Now, the athletes are racing each other around buoys at practice sessions. At this point, we are building stamina, endurance, and speed for the race.

Special Olympic Volunteers

The Special Olympic volunteers ensure that the SUP instruction is one-on-one at all times. Every practice session is carefully planned for safety, and individual progress. All of the volunteers are Class A certified through the Special Olympics. I provided the SUP volunteers with a specific paddle board skills training. The rigorous program included advanced paddle boarding safety, SUP instruction, coaching modifications, and water safety rescue techniques. Volunteers make every training session possible with their dedication and support.

State Special Olympics SUP Race

On Oct. 13, the Second Annual Florida SUP Special Olympic Race will be held in Key West, Florida. Our athletes in Sarasota and Charlotte Counties will be participating in this race for the first time. We are confident that our athletes will have all the skills needed to compete by October.

Community Involvement

Paddle boards are provided by SUP Englewood, my local paddle boarding company. The equipment is free for the athletes and volunteers every Sunday morning for practices. Everyone in the community is encouraged to come out to training practices and cheer on the athletes. The positive feedback is very motivating to all of the athletes. Practices are held every Sunday from 8 to 10 a.m. at the Stump Pass Beach State Park in Englewood. The Embroidery Patch in Venice donated t-shirts for all the athletes and volunteers. Funding is needed for our local SUP Special Olympics team for lodging and travel expenses to the SUP Race. Donations can be made at www.specialolympicsflorida.org/sup.