Maybe because she was born with spina bifida, Amanda Gent was also born fearless, or at least with more courage than just about anyone but a movie superhero.
"I try to stay positive and think of all of the things that I can do," said the 36-year-old Lutheran Hospital insurance verification specialist. "If something scares me... everything in life is a lesson, and you have to learn from it."
Though she has to use a walker to drag her right leg around, it seems like very little scares Gent or slows her. A couple years ago she decided to try taking a kayak out on West Otter Lake, though she admits she didn't do enough research. She got about a mile into her trip when the kayak flipped.
"Luckily, the one I bought is a wide mouth and I was able to get out," she said matter-of-factly. "I couldn't flip it over because it was full of water, so I had just decided to swim back to shore when a gentleman and his son who were in a fishing boat came by."
Eventually, the kayak was flipped back, Gent climbed back in and then paddled home. Because the experience didn't intimidate her, she's been out with the kayak a few times since, and Monday night she took part in a new first. Gent and Jenny Kissel, a 42-year-old who deals with cerebral palsy, were the first participants in a Turnstone and Glorious Gate Rowing Association program. After a few sessions practicing on dry land and with help from trainers, Gent and Kissel spent an hour rowing on the St. Mary's River between the Wells Street Bridge and Headwaters Park.
"It was fun and I'd do it again tomorrow," Kissel said with a smile. "The coordination was not there yet. When you watch it on TV, you see the perfect stroke, and I wasn't anywhere near perfect."
But she was on the water, experiencing the freedom and sensation of gliding along the river. The Ivy Tech assistant director of human resources also uses a walker to move around. She doesn't see trying something new as courageous because it's also something she has to do every day.
"The thing that most people don't realize is that people with disabilities have to work in a world every day that wasn't made for them," Kissel said. "Ramps or accessible doors always seem to be the furthest distance from the main area. Adaptive sports is huge because though we compete differently, it's still competing, just different."
Monday night was the culmination of a five-year dream for Glorious Gate Owner John Hoham, 59, who is also the Concordia Lutheran High School crew coach. He started the business in 2009 and moved it near the Wells Street Bridge in 2015.
Five of his team members trained with Louisville Adaptive Rowing over two days to work with adaptive athletes. Monday night, Kissel went out with Blackhawk Christian graduate Madison Byrd while Gent worked with recent Concordia graduate Victoria Miller.
"There's a huge amount of trust involved in this," Hoham said. "When you are rowing with an adaptive rower, you have to row the same way as they do. If you row harder, you can hurt that person a lot. You have to be real attentive and alert enough to avoid problems, the worst one being if the boat flips over and that person is strapped in the seat. You have to be willing to sacrifice everything, including yourself to get them out of that seat because they are your primary responsibility at that point."
Partly because of the calm waters between rainstorms, that level of sacrifice and responsibility wasn't necessary Monday night, though Gent and Miller wobbled pretty good once.
"I was nervous because I wasn't sure at it was going to be like," Miller said of her training in Louisville. "I was nervous and excited the first time I met Amanda, but she was smiling and happy and willing to work with anything."
While continually coaching their charges, the trainers primarily worked at rowing the boats up river so Gent and Kissel could practice rowing with the current. It wasn't just a job, it was a chance for them to share the passion they have with their sport and help it expand.
For the rookies, it was all about trying new things, trusting others to do their jobs correctly and having the courage to always look ahead. They can't be scared or hesitant.
"It's all about wanting to do it," Kissel said. "I think people believe people with disabilities don't want to take part in life, and I've always wished I could do things like rowing. I just want to have that experience to be able to say, `Hey, I've done this.' Just because you are disabled, you still want to have every experience possible."
Turnstone's programs are always about proving what the physically challenged can do, not what they can't.
"I don't like to do the same thing all the time so if I have an opportunity to try something new, I usually do it," Gent said. "I just have never been one that if something negative happens, I just give up. That's why I can still walk. If I quit striving, I probably would be in a wheelchair because I would have just given up."
For more on local sports, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring and on Facebook at Blake Sebring.
Turnstone hosting Paralympic Weekend
On Friday and Saturday as part of an open house, Turnstone will allow individuals including youth, adults and military veterans with physical and visual impairments to try out nine sports.
Starting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Turnstone's Plassman Athletic Center, the program begins with wheelchair basketball, followed by rowing at 11 a.m. and track and field at 11:30 a.m. before an hour break. The sports resume at 1 p.m. with goalball followed by table tennis at 1:30 p.m., quad rugby at 2 p.m. and power soccer at 3 p.m. From 1-3 p.m. Sunday, participants can try sled hockey at the Parkview Ice House.
Individuals with physical disabilities qualify for each sport except goalball, while individuals with visual impairments qualify for rowing, track and field and goalball.
For more information, contact Kevin Hughes at Turnstone, 969-7654 or 483-2100.
Turnstone also offers other sports such as wheelchair football, boccia, swimming, archery, cycling, wheelchair basketball, golf, bowling, power soccer and wheelchair rugby.