I was very pleased to be back on the water rowing. However, there was one huge problem with my first row. Four people were required to help me launch my boat. If I always needed others to help me to get the boat in the water, I realized I would rarely be able to row. I didn’t want to inconvenience others. Furthermore, the best time of the day to row was 6:30 AM when the water was calm. I knew I wouldn’t be able to find anyone willing to carry my boat to the water at that time of day.
How could I launch the boat on my own? Prior to my injury I had carried to the boat on my head and walked it to the lake, but this maneuver required great balance, and was impossible with a prosthetic leg. Perhaps I could pull a wagon, but my free rowing knee collapsed whenever the prosthetic toe caught on the grass.
“Dad, why don’t you buy an ATV and drive the boat to the lake?”, Ashley suggested. Yes, that made good sense. I could drive the all terrain vehicle to the lake shore and then set the boat down into the water. That very day I purchased an ATV.
But how would I use it to carry my boat to the lake? Searching on the internet I found a special rack designed to carry canoes, but I knew it could also carry my shell which weighed only 26 lbs. My wife Kathie and I bolted the rack to the ATV. I then took large straps and hung them down as slings to cradle the shell. The entire set up fit under the shed by inches, but it worked. I had a method for transporting the boat to the lake.
The million dollar question, would I be able to lift the boat off the ATV and place it in the water? I drove the ATV into the water to a 1 foot depth. Next I maneuvered off the machine into the water with my flexible knee. If I hyper-extended the knee it locked allowing me to bear weight. I carefully positioned myself next to the ATV, placed my arms under the boat and released the straps. The boat dropped into my arms and I slowly inched my way deeper into the water using side steps and propping myself against the wheel rim. I slid the bow into the water. This took 20 minutes. I was sweating and my arms were fatigued, but I had the boat in the water. Next I took the supporting pontoons and the oars. First I locked the pontoons on the ends of the riggers, and then using the oars as a cane I walked them to the boat, and placed each one in the oar lock. Next I sat in the boat seat and rotated my prosthetic leg into the boat. I slowly rowed the boat through the dense vegetation and after another 20 minutes made it out to the lake.
I was exhausted and only rowed for 10 minutes because I realized I had to save energy to put the boat back on the ATV. I backed the boat onto the shore, removed the oars and slowly dragged the boat toward the ATV. As I stepped my prosthetic leg caught on some underwater weeds and the knee buckled. I fell in the water with the boat on top of me. Soaked I lifted my self up and again cradled the boat in my arms, being very careful to avoid weeds and other obstructions. After 40 minutes I managed to lift the boat up, place it in the slings, and place the oars on the rack. Wet, muddy and exhausted I drove the ATV back to the shed where I was able to carefully back the long boat into the constraining shed space without causing any damage.
My first boat launch on my own had been a success, as well as an incredible workout. The entire process had taken over 2 hours. A far cry from the simple way I had launched my boat with two good legs. But then again I had achieved my goal. I knew my technique for launching the boat would improve over time. I also knew this represented a major milestone in my recovery.