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A Vermont Man Needed Assistance To Kayak. His Community Got To Work To Change That

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And now a story of a Morgan, Vt., community helping one of their own. A high school robotics teacher, a retired engineer and the owner of a local hardware store worked together to help a paralyzed neighbor who loves to kayak. Their effort gave the man the freedom to travel his beloved lake. Jon Kalish has the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD CALLING)

JON KALISH, BYLINE: Seymour Lake lies about eight miles south of the Canadian border. Most of the people who live on the lake are summer residents. Many, like David Weiselmann, come from families with roots dating back several generations.

DAVID WEISELMANN: Words can't really explain the feeling you get. It's just you know you're in the right place. And that's a great feeling, when you know and can feel that you're exactly where you're supposed to be.

KALISH: Weiselmann, now 50, was an avid cyclist and skier. But in 2010, a mountain biking accident left him paralyzed from his chest down.

WEISELMANN: Everything I loved to do was gone.

KALISH: But Weiselmann is able to kayak because he still has use of his arms. For years, his neighbors helped get him in and out of his boat. A couple of summers ago on an abnormally chilly night, Weiselmann was stranded for an hour and a half before finding someone to assist him. He felt helpless.

ERIK LESSING: I got involved. Other people got involved. And we put our talents together and said, we can do this.

KALISH: Erik Lessing is a retired Hewlett-Packard engineer who designed a system to lift Weiselmann out of his wheelchair and lower him into his kayak. It was built last winter in the garage of the local hardware store owner and is now attached to a modified dock on the lake.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

KALISH: Weiselmann holds a TV remote-like device in his hand that's attached to a 9-foot-long cable. He uses it to lift his body out of the wheelchair, then grabs a rail and slide sideways 4 feet so he's directly over the kayak. High school teacher Dan Brush helped build the lift.

DAN BRUSH: And he's able to push the button and slowly drop himself down into the kayak. And he's off and paddling across the lake.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAYAK PADDLING)

KALISH: Armed with an underwater GoPro, Weiselmann patrols one sector of the lake to make sure there are no invasive aquatic species. So far, there are none in the lake. He kayaks for six hours at times.

WEISELMANN: Every single time after going kayaking, I come back and I see my wheelchair sitting on that dock. It just kicks me in the head every time. Like, I can finally be free to do what I want by myself.

KALISH: The kayak lift was built with volunteer labor, but Weiselmann's neighbors had to raise $15,000 to buy parts. Neighbor Dan Brush says a manufactured lift system would cost twice as much.

BRUSH: This is something that anybody could build. It's all basic, off-the-shelf materials. We're willing to share our plans. For anybody that wants to do it, we certainly would be happy to help them.

KALISH: Looking forward to the fall foliage, David Weiselmann has more than a month of kayaking ahead of him before his neighbors wheel the dock with his kayak lift out of the water on Columbus Day. For NPR news, I'm Jon Kalish.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.