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Humans of the U: John MacDonald

"My favorite part of doing this is the light bulb moments—it’s when you see somebody get it."

“I got involved with adaptive paddling workshops in 2005. Now, I am one of about 15 instructor trainers across the U.S. and one of only two instructor trainer educators in the entire American Canoe Association. It’s a great passion of mine.

As an instructor trainer, I teach workshops, and as an instructor trainer educator, I certify other people to become instructor trainers so they can teach the workshops. We teach courses all over the United States as well as internationally.

In adaptive paddling workshops, we work with everybody from paddle sport educators to recreational therapists to people who aren’t necessarily paddlers, but they want to get more experience integrating people with disabilities into programs. During the first day, we work on different regulations, policies, and how to build a program. We spend time working on how to outfit a boat using foam and duct tape to meet somebody’s needs.

During the second day, the instructors get paired with a student with a disability who has come to learn how to paddle. Together, they build a boat outfitted to fit their needs. They then get to go in the pool and try out everything that they’ve built and see how it all works. The students learn the fundamentals of paddling in the boat they built with their instructors. In some workshops, we extend that into a third day where we head out to an open water lake where they get to paddle. It’s a really immersive experience.

I have people come into programs and they haven’t been in the water at all since their injury. Sometimes they’re anxious and scared, but by the end of the course, they’re having a great time; they’re splashing around with their instructors and really enjoying it. You can see that growth. It’s really, really amazing.

My favorite part of doing this is the light bulb moments – it’s when you see somebody get it. Anytime you’re teaching something, you want to master it, but here, the person you’re teaching is the expert. That student really becomes a part of the process. The student is hands-on; they’re the expert in the disability and the instructor is the expert in paddling. We marry those two together and they have to figure out their working relationships. The coolest part for me is seeing all that click.

I am excited to be bringing this program to the University of Utah. It will be available this year and we hope to offer it every year, if not a couple of times a year.”

—John MacDonald, director, Campus Recreation Services