Arizona Adaptive Watersports provides fun-filled lake days for people with disabilities

Arizona Adaptive Watersports volunteer Matt Borup helps a group of children prepare for a tubing adventure, encouraging them with a thumbs up and a smile. The group went out on Bartlett Lake on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo by Hunter Fore/Cronkite News)

Lauren Heimerdinger, who is visually impaired, does sit-down water skiing, accompanied by volunteer Glen Creamer. Sit-down water skiing is a popular alternative to skiing standing up for individuals with disabilities. (Photo by Hunter Fore/Cronkite News)

AAWS Founder and Director Jo Crawford interacts with participants and volunteers of a water sports day on what Crawford called their “party boat.” (Photo by Hunter Fore/Cronkite News)

Frank Vance, who is visually impaired, and Joanna Lilquist have a tubing session on Bartlett Lake. (Photo by Hunter Fore/Cronkite News)

AAWS volunteers Glen Creamer, left, and Hank Morris, middle, help AAWS participants Frank Vance and Joanna Lilquist prepare to go tubing. (Photo by Hunter Fore/Cronkite News)

AAWS volunteer Hank Morris, left, and equipment manager Jeff Ramsdell set up “event in progress” signs on the dock at Bartlett Lake. (Photo by Hunter Fore/Cronkite News)

SCOTTSDALE – On a sunny Saturday, kids and adults alike strapped on their life vests for some fun in the sun at Bartlett Lake.

At this September event and others like it, Arizona Adaptive Watersports helps people with disabilities enjoy the water through activities that include wakeboarding and water skiing.

“As a recreation therapist, we want to break barriers and do whatever it takes to get people to play again,” said Jo Crawford, AAWS founder and director. “Out here you leave the asphalt and concrete behind. You get to have fun with your family and you get some adventure.”

The organization has been around since 1996. People with all types of disabilities participate in AAWS events, from those who are visually impaired to individuals with physical limitations.

The cost for an event is $125 per person/family. Almost $1,000 per person comes from donors, sponsors and grants.

Lupita Hernandez, right, who is visually impaired, and her guide, Shannon Foreman, enjoy a day on Bartlett Lake with AAWS. (Photo by Hunter Fore/Cronkite News)

Lupita Hernandez, right, who is visually impaired, and her guide, Shannon Foreman, enjoy a day on Bartlett Lake with AAWS. (Photo by Hunter Fore/Cronkite News)

“You get to come out and have a day on the lake, and everyone is your best friend and everyone is just amazing to you,” volunteer Kylee Husted said. “It just lights their faces up.”

AAWS, which is a Christian-based organization, aims to offer people with disabilities opportunities on the water that most people take for granted.

Crawford said “20% of a person’s overall health happens in the doctor’s office, and then the other 80% is access to life, and that’s where we come in. The biggest thing is having access to try something new.”

AAWS has events year-round at multiple locations across the state. Some events are for the day, and some take up a weekend. Dozens of volunteers arrive early to set up for the day.

“We’re really encouraging people to leave the city and go to other parts of the state,” Crawford said. “We provide access to fun stuff; life should be fun.”

Hunter Fore(he/him/his)
News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Hunter Fore expects to graduate in December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in French. Fore has experience as a writer for Phoenix Business Journal and Downtown Devil along with an internship at Times Media Group.