By Jo Crawford
The Day on the Lake program is the largest integrated watersports program offered in Arizona thanks to Bryan Church, owner of Bartlett Lake Marina. I was a young recreation therapist when I visited the marina in 1996 and thought, “This would be the perfect lake to host adaptive watersports!” Church was open to the idea. The program started that summer with 18 participants. Church, who sustained a spinal cord injury in 1980 in a construction accident, built the marina hoping more folks would realize how important it is to get out and play. After visiting Bartlett Lake in the late 1980s, Church wrote to Tonto National Forest officials inquiring about a special permit to use the land (To Whom It May Concern: I’d like to build a marina on Bartlett Lake…). “I don’t think anyone took me seriously,” Church said. Now the all-service marina, 45 minutes from Scottsdale, has grown into one of Arizona’s best-kept secrets. A restaurant was added last year. This year, a cable park for wakeboarding will be added. The marina also has boat rentals. Church said, “It just amazes me that for so many of these folks, without Day on the Lake, they might never come out and see all the stuff they can do.” During the event, you’ll see participants and family members waiting in line to talk with Church about what their experience meant to them. One gentleman, who had sustained a spinal cord injury about 20 years ago from diving into a pool, said that for the first time since his injury his body was completely submerged in the water. For 10 seconds, he held his breath underwater for the water intake test. When he came back to the surface, he was tearful and said, “I am finally free.” With that, he went jet skiing for the first time in over 20 years.
The program offers adaptive watersports to anyone aged three and up with a physical or neurological disability. Church knows that for many participants it’s the first time they get to try adaptive waterskiing, jet skiing, kayaking, boating, fishing, tubing and wakeboarding. For many folks, it’s the first time they have played along with their families since their injury instead of spending their time in the waiting room at the doctor’s office or therapy. Another Day on the Lake favorite is the Party Boat, which has a slide and two decks for a complete view of the beautiful lake. They also contract out the rental of jet skis and paddle boards. Church also works with a youth at-risk program from South Phoenix. They participate in an event similar to Day on the Lake and explore all the avenues that life has to offer. While Church is one of the most humble men I have ever met, his role as an entrepreneur and philanthropist impacts those around him. When they meet him, you often hear, “He owns his own business. I could do that, too!” “This is my ministry, I know God is in charge and I want people to see His beauty when they come here. I also want people to live an active life and an injury doesn’t need to hold you back,” stated Church.
Jo Crawford is the Program Coordinator at the Barrow Connection, an outreach program at Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center.