Watersports enthusiast Rivera crosses the Atlantic for a historic para kitesurfing event

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Florida-based Frances Rivera has spent the past six years teaching people adaptive kiteboarding. This week she became a student herself as World Sailing hosts the first ever para kite development clinic.

World Sailing is organizing the course in Campione del Garda from June 23 to 26 alongside the Formula Kite – Grand Prix Campione di Garda competition. The clinic brings together four coaches and seven athletes for workshops on kiting and training practices, culminating in a para kite regatta where participants can put their new skills into practice.

Rivera is one of two representatives for the United States, along with coach Jon Beery. There are also participants from Australia, France, Germany, Iran, Italy and the Netherlands.

The Lake Garda Para Kitesurf Clinic is the first development event organized by World Sailing for this sport discipline. @Rob Holden/World Sailing

Come to the water

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Rivera had been involved in water sports since childhood. But above all the sports she tried, it was kitesurfing that she loved the most.

Rivera started kitesurfing in 2007, and when she had an accident in 2011 and had to amputate her left leg, giving up her favorite sport proved particularly painful.

However, she did not stay away for long.

“Some people might say I’m stubborn,” Rivera said with a laugh. “When I was in the hospital, the doctor told me to slow down and do less demanding physical activities. My body and I took it like, “You’re telling me I can’t kitesurf so I’m definitely going to kitesurf now”.

“Kitesurfing was that. You can jump 20, 30 feet in the air, you can catch waves, you can do so many things. There are many different variations, although it was not something that was going to become a Paralympic sport, it was something that is part of what drives me in life,” she added. “It was part of me, so I wasn’t ready to give it up.”

Rivera started getting back into kitesurfing about eight months after his accident, and the trip wasn’t easy right away.

“Not having a leg part and now trying to guess the pressure,” Rivera said of the biggest change she experienced returning to kiteboarding after an amputation. “You don’t have that ability anymore, so you have to adjust with your knee or your hip.

“Adjusting to the pressure was a big challenge, but more than the physical challenge, it was the mental challenge. The hardest part was that you tend to compare yourself to who you were before and what you’re in. right now. There’s a deadline. You “I’m not that flexible. It takes longer to improve. There are many more falls. The mental aspect was the most important factor. It took me a few years to let go of my past once I realized it was my life.”

Once she overcame those hurdles, Rivera was back in her element.

Kitesurfing not only reminded Rivera why she loved the sport, but also helped change her attitude towards her disability.

“Ten years ago, if you asked me, I would have been hurt and maybe bitter about it, but now I look back and it’s like, ‘I’m here because of this and I’m okay with that,'” Rivera said. “I’m happy and now I just want to charge and see how I can help others and set an example that no matter what you miss if you have the right attitude and are committed to achieving your goals.”

Rivera did just that, helping introduce more people to his beloved sport.

She currently represents a sports brand as her full-time job and has also been offering lessons for adapted kitesurfers since 2016. In that time she has had over 50 students, including injured veterans and those with disabilities. mental and physical.

From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean

At the end of May, Rivera discovered that she was one of the athletes selected to participate in the first-ever para kitesurfing clinic. His reaction was a mixture of excitement and nervousness.

“I never thought I’d see it start to develop, so it’s quite exciting to see that the sport I’ve been with for so long has the opportunity to become more internationally recognized and grow into something bigger. “, Rivera said.

“It makes me a little nervous, but I sure can’t dislike it,” she added. “I will take up the challenge.”

The Para Kitesurf Clinic in Campione del Garda is the first official Para Sailing Development Program (PDP) that World Sailing has organized for this sport.

Two para kite surfers on the water.  The one in the front is sitting on a special board and the one in the background is a standing kitesurfer with a prosthetic arm.
Seven countries are represented among the participants of the first para kitesurfing clinic. @Rob Holden/World Sailing

World Sailing selected the 11 participants by sending out invitations to national federations and then reviewing the skill level and availability of the applicants. As a result, seven countries are participating, but the governing body hopes to significantly increase this number in the future.

“For this discipline, this is a first-time event and we want to write some guidelines, then as soon as we’re done here, we’ll do the customization for other regions,” said Massimo Dighe, manager. of Para World Sailing at World Sailing. .

“We plan to do PDPs on a regional basis so we can have all regions there without asking everyone to fly far.”

A male kiteboarder with a straight leg prosthesis navigates the water.
Other para kitesurfing events are already in the works, including regional events. @Rob Holden/World Sailing

World Sailing plans to hold more para kitesurfing events in the future as part of the organization’s wider efforts to grow the sport and make it more inclusive.

The plan is to hold regional and national events, and later to propel the sport onto a bigger stage, possibly the Paralympic Games.

“There’s more excitement, more young people involved,” Dighe said of the appeal of para kitesurfing. “We had the opportunity to do this kind of event with the IKA (International Kiteboarding Association) tour, so for us it’s a great opportunity. We can be very inclusive by having parakite as a competition.

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