Lazy Dog Adventures

By: USA Games Correspondent, Tynan Gable

It is not uncommon for a Game Changer to be unaware of the true impact they have on the lives of people with Intellectual Disabilities. In fact, many overlook or undersell just how amazing their efforts truly are.

This week’s nominee for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games #ImAGameChanger campaign is a little Florida-based company called Lazy Dog Adventures. The hardworking staff and volunteers of this organization certainly fit into this group of unbeknownst Game Changers.

Lazy Dog is an eco-tour adventure and water sport company on the island of Key West, which is a part of Florida’s Monroe County. With a brand that is now globally recognized in water sports including stand-up paddling (SUP), this organization is well respected in its community.

Sue Cooper is the owner of Lazy Dog, which also makes her the center of a team of hardworking and kind-hearted staff members, water sport instructors, and tour guides. The commitment to inclusion made by these individuals has put Lazy Dog on the map for so much more than just its premier water equipment and services.

Ruth Holland, the Monroe County Special Olympics director, is one who has seen the impact of their work first-hand. For the past eight years, Sue and Lazy Dog have been very involved in the local Special Olympics community.

Before this relationship was established, the Monroe County Special Olympics consisted of three sports, all of which were secluded from the general public: bocce, bowling, and cycling. The incorporation of SUP has allowed the community of Key West to rally around the Special Olympics athletes, increasing interest of both fans and volunteers.

In the world of SUP, Sue has been providing coaching and training to interested Special Olympics athletes for the past eight years. Guides at Lazy Dog as well as members of the women’s SUP team of Key West have also gotten involved in training Special Olympics athletes.

The Special Olympics SUP athletes of Monroe County have received exceptional training thanks to Lazy Dog, with the policy of promoting a fun and inclusive environment being the biggest priority. The Special Olympics athletes are now a part of weekly trainings and have the necessary skills and proper safety techniques to do SUP on their own.

“My athletes have been given the opportunity to be independent. And when our young Special Olympics athletes go to the paddle board shack, they are treated like everyone else,” Ruth explained. “Sue truly brought Special Olympics paddling into the culture of the typical sport of paddling.”

Outside of their direct work with the Special Olympics athletes, Lazy Dog staff have also been involved in hosting fundraising events, that contribute money for the travel of SUP athletes around Florida for competitions. One such event is the Key West Paddle Classic, a race that incorporates big name SUP athletes from all over the country to this little four-by-two-mile island.

Lazy Dog owner, Sue, pictured with athletes of Key West Paddle Classic.

Lazy Dog owner, Sue, pictured with athletes of Key West Paddle Classic.

Sue and Lazy Dog have advocated for the growth of SUP in the Special Olympics world, working extensively with the Florida Special Olympics manager to make SUP become a sanctioned Special Olympics sport for the State Games. The small movement that started in Key West has spread throughout the state of Florida.

“By aligning the Lazy Dog brand with Special Olympics in Florida, it has promoted us,” said Ruth.

For the past three years, several counties have sent athletes to compete in SUP at the State Games. And beyond Florida, the efforts of Sue and her hardworking staff have been fundamental in the movement to bring SUP to Special Olympics on a national scale.

Ruth explained that “saying 'Lazy Dog does it' when talking to SUP communities around the country gives us credibility.”

SUP has continued to gain popularity in the Special Olympics throughout the United States, to where it will be featured as a “demo” sport in the 2018 USA Games in Seattle, Washington. Ruth is the head coach for the Florida Special Olympics SUP team and will be bringing four athletes from the state of Florida to compete this summer.

“At a grassroots level, my team is going to the 2018 Games because of Lazy Dog,” said Ruth.

There is no limit to the impact that one Game Changer can make in the lives of those with intellectual disabilities. This is an important lesson that, perhaps, not even the staff at Lazy Dog have learned yet.

“Monroe County was transformed a lot from this company’s involvement and they don’t even realize it. We are one human family on this island and they exemplify this motto every day,” said Ruth. “And because of this, Lazy Dog as a company has forever changed the game for SUP and Special Olympics athletes on a nationwide scale.”