Disabled paddler chasing an Olympic-sized dream

Sprint race adaptive canoes are narrower than even performance kayaks, making them swift but very tippy.

Joe Moore has 40 state-of-the-art sprint racing kayaks, and he’s looking for a few athletes in a class by themselves.

They have to be eager paddlers, ready and willing to train relentlessly for international competition that is years ahead of them. And they must meet one of the more rigorous standards for Olympic competition: They have to be at a disadvantage.

“I want to find Paralympians with qualifying disabilities who want to compete,” said Moore, 45, of James Island. He will look for them across the Lowcountry and the nation.

Paracanoe races debut at the Rio Paralympics in September. To qualify as a Paralympian, an athlete “must have an impairment in body structures and functions that leads to a competitive disadvantage in sport,” as the International Paralympic Committee states.

An American team will be in Rio, but “in 2016 we won’t have the most competitive team. To compete at the international level is very hard. Europe and other region teams are more experienced. They will be fierce competition,” Moore said. He’s looking to change that.

The founder of Adaptive Expeditions, Moore is working with the American Canoe Association and USA Canoe/Kayak, which bought the Portuguese-built kayaks with grants. The idea is rig the boats for various types and levels of disabilities, use them to introduce people to the sport, then identify serious paddlers for world games.

The nonprofit is an educational program using recreation and sports activities as health and wellness programs for people with disabilities. Moore’s forte is outfitting, instruction and coaching techniques. A longtime paddler, he turned to the avocation big time after he lost a leg.

The sport tends to be one of the more attractive for people dealing with a disability, but equipment continues to be an issue, partly because the details differ from individual to individual.

Sometimes it’s as simple as equipping paddleboards with seats. But sometimes it requires the foot pegs, sharp edges and other interior gear to be removed and replaced with smoother braces for people with lower body issues, so they don’t get injured or become trapped if they capsize.

The newly acquired kayaks nearly triple the number now in the United States.

“We run adaptive paddling workshops to bring the sport to people of all abilities. It’s a pretty unique thing and Joe Moore is our point person, spearheading the initiative,” said Chris Stec, of the American Canoe Association. “He left the association to fulfill this life dream and passion. I can’t say enough about him as a person and what he’s trying to do for paddlesports in Charleston and across the country. ”

Moore will tour programs across the country starting this summer to hold a series of workshops about the equipment and conduct training sessions.

He’d like to see one of those Paralympians emerge from the Lowcountry.

For more information contact Adaptive Expeditions, www.adaptiveexpeditions.org or 843-637-7269.

Reach Bo Petersen at 843-937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.