Tourists all over the world are increasingly interested in doing sports, in particular, the so-called “adventure tourism” activities. People arriving at new destinations are asking more and more for this type of recreation, including physically impaired people, and in Uruguay they’ll have the chance to engage in adaptive sports and enjoy them safely.
Nadia Carreras, head at Cosabuena accessibility agency, published an article in the “Latin American Journal of Inclusive Tourism” in which she presents several cases in Uruguay that are worth knowing– examples of outstanding adaptive athletes, and even elite athletes. Or, as Nadia best defines them: “dreamers who don’t give up in the face of adversity, assertive and strong-willed human beings who have found a smart way to cope with the characteristic that also makes them unique.”
Let’s look into some of these experiences and discover the places and institutions where these activities can be carried out.
Juan Ignacio Posadas is a quadriplegic surfer and a renowned figure in the adaptive sports community. His life changed irreversibly the day he turned 30. He went surfing with friends, he was trying to catch a wave when suddenly he knew that something was wrong—an electricity sensation ran down his back and left him incapable of moving. He thought that was the end of it, but the tide brought him inexplicably back to shore.
After the accident he was in a coma, immobile, with a discouraging medical prognosis. One day he realized that he could move a finger and said to himself: “How far I can go– I will have to prove it.” After a long and tough rehab process, “Juancho” not only was able to use a wheelchair, he also represented our country in the Adaptive Surf World Championship in the USA and returned with a bronze medal. Currently he also practices Quad Rugby with “Los Criollos”, Uruguay’s inclusive rugby national team.
The Adaptive Surfing Open has been taking place in Punta del Este for the last four years with the support of the Maldonado Municipality. According to the organizers, “the event promotes sport as an instrument of inclusion, encouraging non-conventional sports practices and contributing to the development of healthy lifestyles, as well as supporting surfing as a recreational activity.”
In addition to that, every summer season at Montevideo’s Malvín Beach, “Escuela del Mar” and the “Soñando sobre las olas” project promote inclusive surfing for people with physical and cognitive disabilities, and even help them modify their surfboards according to the special needs of each surfer.
Christian Garcia is your man for any activity involving a single-bladed paddle. He started using a wheelchair after a car accident, now he practices Quad Rugby and rowing. He represented Uruguay at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, winning the bronze medal, and has participated in several international competitions.
As soon as the paddle enters the water, he is already enjoying the feeling of being there, surrounded by nature’s scents and colors. Moving along the river, he feels totally free. For him, the experience is both soothing and encouraging.
Christian says that the best place for canoeing is the Club Alemán de Remo at either of its two venues: Santiago Vázquez (Montevideo) and Carmelo (Colonia).
The Río de la Plata is also a good alternative. The Punta Carretas Rowing School in Montevideo carries out the program “Rowing for all”, aimed at people with special needs interested in practicing this sport. For this purpose, there are adapted boats and two instructors, Joaquín and Lucía, always ready to facilitate an enriching experience for all.
Enrique Font is a true athlete. The inability to walk has not prevented him from putting Uruguay on an international podium– an achievement that very few athletes come to enjoy. In 2018, he won the bronze medal in adaptive rowing at the South American Rowing Championship in Chile. Today he continues to practice this sport, training at the Calcagno Lake, in the department of Canelones. But rowing is only one of his passions in the water, the newest.
Enrique has also represented Uruguay in adapted sailing. In 2017 he took fourth place at the San Isidro Labrador Championship on board one of the two adapted sailing boats of the Yacht Club Uruguay. Since 2016, this institution lying on the banks of the Río de la Plata, facing the Buceo Marina in Montevideo, has had a program that makes these two boats available to those who are interested in using them regardless of whether they are members. You just have to contact them and coordinate in advance.
Matías Verdugo is a 29 years old engineer. He was left paraplegic at 14 after a botched biopsy procedure. Four years ago, he made his first parachute tandem jump and since then he has belonged there, in the air. A short time later he started paragliding– it was love at first sight.
He was sent to fly in his third class— not bad at all! He is the first person in a wheelchair in Uruguay to complete the training by himself, without extra help. The credit for adapting the chair to suit the needs of the practice is all his own and his instructors. The experience provides him with both inner peace and adrenaline– two opposite sensations that manifest themselves together. He enjoys the flights immensely, they help him feel independent and discover himself.
Matías learned to paraglide at the Flight Club Parapente, an institution that also offers tandem paramotor flights. The trike is especially recommended for people with motor disabilities: it’s a two-seater aluminum trolley that takes off easily and flies smoothly.
For those who are ready to have a free-falling experience for roughly a minute at 155 mi/h, Tandem Factory offers tandem parachute jumps. Their instructors have experience in jumping with people with disabilities, so they will come up with the best option in each case.
Uruguay is committed to address the special needs of the visitors arriving in the country. Indeed, the country is collecting the necessary data to carry out a situational diagnosis, while promoting inclusive policies. The Ministry of Tourism’s Accessibility Group is currently working on the adaptation of two destinations in particular: “Quebrada de los Cuervos”, in the department of Treinta y Tres, and “Montes del Queguay”, in Paysandú.
The former boasts a beautiful rolling hills and grasslands landscape; at the bottom of the gully that gives name to the site lies the clear fast-flowing Yerbal Chico stream. Here you can engage in hiking, bird watching, environmental education activities and camping.
Montes del Queguay, on the other hand, cover roughly 50,000 acres between the rivers Queguay Grande and Queguay Chico, close to Guichón town. Blessed with a great variety of native flora and fauna, the site offers the possibility to practice canoeing, photography safari and catch-and-release recreational fishing.
With the support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), both destinations will soon be part of the accessible tourism supply chain in Uruguay.
Cover photo: Presidencia de la República