When Jan Whitaker went to Hawaii in 1986, she had no way of knowing that she would be starting a voyage that would impact the lives of hundreds of individuals.  

Back home in New York, Jan's vision of making outrigger canoeing accessible to individuals with a special need came to fruition.  Paddlers of all abilities were able to get out on the Genesee River and Erie Canal in this stable boat that could be modified for individuals who needed more support than a traditional canoe or kayak could offer.  The double-hulled outrigger canoe also enabled people to paddle as a small group, which offers support in the form of camaraderie as well! 

CAOO and Disabled Sports USA

Cape Ability Outrigger Ohana is a chapter of Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA).  DSUSA was founded in 1967 by disabled Vietnam Veterans.  DSUSA provides opportunities for individuals with physical disabilities to gain confidence and dignity through sports, recreation, and related educational programs.  It is the nation's largest multi-sport, multi-disability organization, serving more than 60,000 people nationwide.  DSUSA is a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, conducts training camps and competitions to prepare athletes for the Paralympic Games.  DSUSA offers sports rehabilitation programs through its nationwide network of over 80 community-based groups.

Paddling Pioneers

Cape Ability Outrigger Ohana’s President and pioneer paddlers:

Were instrumental in establishing an outrigger canoe program in Maryland for members of the United States Military Services in rehabilitation programs at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Center.

Pioneered international exhibition competition for paddlers with physical or intellectual disabilities at sanctioned IVF World Sprint races in Hilo, Hawaii in 2004 and Lake Karapiro, New Zealand in 2006. As a result of these exhibition races, the IVF will offer these classes as World Sprint Race Championship events for the first time ever in Sacramento, California in 2008.

Created the first-of-its-kind outrigger canoe program in the country for paddlers with intellectual disabilities. The program is offered in Rochester and Buffalo; it included over 75 participants in 2005.  In 2004, we organized the participation of two teams of paddlers with intellectual disabilities in exhibition races at 2004 USA Canoe/Kayak Olympic Trials in Oakland, Ca.

Established exhibition outrigger canoe races for paddlers with physical disabilities at United States Canoe Association National Championships from 2001 to 2004.  In 2005, these races were elevated to USCA National Championship Classes.

Provided physical and logistical support for Peter Crowley’s solo outrigger canoe journey from Albany to New York City on the Hudson River in 1999. Peter’s achievement, as the first paddler without sight to complete this journey, was captured on live TV by Good Morning America as he entered Chelsea Piers.

Partnered with a canoe manufacturer in Maine to design the first modified seat system available in outrigger canoes in an effort to offer this sport to all people. We also created the use of a safety ama, a stabilizing float attached to the outrigger canoe to prevent it from capsizing. This provided for safe paddling for individuals with disabilities. 

Were instrumental in the creation of the Rochester River Challenge in 1997, a race that has grown from a small, local, community festival to become the largest outrigger canoe race on the east coast of the United States. It is an inclusive community event that attracts a diverse group of people of all ages and abilities and has brought recognition to Rochester as the birthplace of team outrigger canoe racing for people with disabilities.

Assisted in the establishment of national/international outrigger canoe programs in Hawaii, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, Florida,Canada, England, Cook Islands, New Zealand and Italy. We inspired the movement for inclusion of the sport of outrigger canoeing in Paralympic Games. The Paralympics are the second largest sporting event in the world following the Olympics.