This week offered the start of two programs available through Friends After Diagnosis. On February 8th a group of five women began a new session of the Ride Beyond Diagnosis equine-assisted therapy program in partnership with Special Equestrians of the Treasure Coast. Having been through the program myself, I understand the significance of the treat these women are going to experience. Each new participant came to the first session with limited horse experience and a few reservations. The instructors at Special Equestrians, and all the volunteers, have a way of making everyone feel welcome, valued, and relaxed around horses.
After touring the grounds and meeting the horses in various pastures, we headed back to the barn where two horses, Picassa and Elsa, were waiting to be groomed. This is a great way to begin the bonding process with these magnificent animals. After a few instructions covering horse safety, horse body language, and grooming, all five women picked up the appropriate brush to begin the grooming process. The horses are patient, gentle, and love all the attention they receive during grooming (think horse spa), so that is a good place to start.
As the grooming process continued (it takes four different brushes to complete), reservations from the women began to recede as each new participant offered friendship, and the horses responded with expressions of appreciation and enjoyment. A new confidence could be seen in even the most hesitant of the group as each participant began a dialogue with the horse while taking care of its needs. It wasn’t long before there were words of endearment, extra caresses, and horse hugs (around the neck please) happening. As a volunteer it is rewarding to see the bonding process begin the very first day of class. And what is coming next will only enhance the relationship that is already off to a good start.
Row Beyond Diagnosis
On February 11th a brand new rowing program began for cancer survivors, their caregivers, and support people. With excitement and enthusiasm, we met at 9:30 am by MacWilliam Boat Park Basin to have our first rowing experience on the Indian River Lagoon. Right away I noticed the large number of volunteers who had come to help us newbies and, of the volunteers, how many were teens. After an introductory period and a few instructions, volunteer teams quickly formed to carry the long boats to the dock for loading and rowing. Helping hands were everywhere, giving us reminders of how to step into these very thin boats, how to insert feet into the special boat-connected shoes, and the best way to get our fannies onto the ever-moving rowing seats. It’s trickier than it looks!
After the nine people in my boat were finally settled, we pushed off from the dock. Apparently we did not push hard enough because we ended up having an in-depth experience with the mangroves at the end of the dock. Undaunted, we detangled our long oars, backed up, and tried again, this time successfully, to row into the lagoon. There are so many details to remember about rowing: how to hold your back, how and when to slide your seat forward or backward, holding the oar so it balances the boat, and listening to the coxswain (the person in the stern of the boat who gives the rowing team its directions) who will call your number so you know when to row and when to sit still with the oar in balancing mode. It was all I could do to manage my one oar! Quickly there was a new appreciation for the long hours of practice it takes to do this well.
Our boat held four teen female students and four new learners. After the lesson I realized the beauty of my boat arrangement, which was a combination of young and older women. How significant to have women helping women, learning not only how to row but how to face life’s challenges, and valuing what each of us brought to the rowing experience. I was deeply touched by the teens who were knowledgeable, patient, full of good humor, and sensitive to any way they might help. It reminded me of why I chose to teach high school – the majority (notice I didn’t say all) of the students in my years of teaching were delightful. All the volunteers gave up sleeping in and starting the day slow to introduce our group to the fun of rowing. The whole morning reflected thoughtful planning, community support, kindness, and encouragement to try something totally new without criticism. Gratitude best describes this experience.
Two programs starting in one week – each offering the opportunity to explore something new, build confidence, enjoy physical exercise, gain personal insights, make new friends, be with people who understand, and heal parts of ourselves that we sometimes don’t know need healing. What excellent opportunities we have in this community.
Until next time – Sylvia