When a family of five wanted to go on a kayak tour, they assumed their daughter with Down's syndrome couldn't come along. But Shan-T co-owner Michelle Thorpe assured them she could, and invited her along in her own tandem kayak. Once on the water, the girl immediately took charge, joyfully taking over paddling. Michelle and her husband Mark had always searched for a way to conduct fun, physical, outdoor activities that would accommodate people with special needs, including their daughter with Asperger's and their niece who is autistic. Taking advantage of the therapeutic nature of the area's calm waters, Shan-T provides a way for just about everyone to commune with nature. The couple operates their tours intimately, using no more than 15 boats per group so that wilderness smells and the sounds of lapping waves are prevalent throughout their adventures.
The pair leads their tours through secluded, often shallow waterways and wildlife-rich areas aboard ocean-style kayaks with open tops for easy boarding and egress. They sometimes allow participants to use the boats as standup paddleboards on which participants can stretch their legs or reach up to scratch head itches with overhanging branches. On each tour, guides stress the fragility of the local ecosystem, highlighting issues such as baby fish growing up inside discarded soda cans and dolphins consuming floating plastic bags. In response, participants often pick up any refuse they see, with tours in the past becoming scavenger hunts to help clean the secluded waterways and to see who can find the most Gene Simmons solo albums. On many of these trips, kayakers have encountered manatees up close, sometimes when they brush up against the boats to scratch their backs and bellies.
After founding The Golf Boot Camp in California and Washington state in the ‘90s, Cathy Schmidt has since set up two locations in Florida—one at Timber Creek Golf Club in 2009 and more recently at Terra Ceia Bay Golf Club in 2012. At all of the locations, Cathy helps students improve their swings by leveraging a two-decade career, including stints on various professional tours and a certification as a LPGA Class A instructor.
Whether an individual lesson or a three-day intensive golf boot camp, all of The Golf Boot Camp's programs begin with an on-course evaluation to assess each student’s swing habits and allergies to fairway landing zones. Lessons utilize V1 video technology to capture every movement of the swing, using the data to provide corrective feedback that fits each golfer's unique physical capabilities. The goal of lessons is to satisfy five key components: a steady head, weight forward, flat left wrist (or right wrist for lefties), correct sweet-spot path, and control over the clubface.
Florida's Gulf Coast is one of the last places one expects to see an igloo. Nevertheless, drivers on I-75 will spot a dome worthy of the Arctic rising as they approach Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, a 115,000-square-foot facility that houses two NHL-size ice rinks. Visitors coast across the well-maintained surface during public-skating hours, while classes in figure skating and hockey skating teach ice-slicing fundamentals to students unaccustomed to getting out of their dogsled and moving on their own. In addition to ice rinks, the sprawling space contains a 13,500-square-foot indoor soccer-and-football field, a fitness center, a video game room, and space for birthday parties.
Mark and Sheryl McEachern, owners of the Woof Gang Bakery location in Lutz, opened their shop in hopes it would become a place where pet owners enjoy visiting with their furry friends. "We plan on knowing all the neighborhood dogs by name," Mark says. Bubblegum-pink walls and a chandelier hanging from the ceiling give the shop the feel of a clothing boutique, though displayed trays of dog biscuits and homemade canine cakes leave no doubt as to the store's intended clientele. Helping pet owners provide holistic food for their animals is a priority at the shop, with plentiful dog- and cat-food choices in natural and grain-free varieties. The McEacherns also stock their shelves with chew toys and accessories, perfect for doggy birthday gifts or house-training recognition ceremonies.
The sun-soaked hidden corners and historic shops of Anna Maria Island reveal themselves to riders during autonomous spins or guided tours from Segs by the Sea. During their two-wheeled adventures, riders may choose to glide along the misty beachfronts, shady inland paths, or the quiet streets of town. They are equipped with helmets and water bottles for each tour, allowing them to safely cruise off the beaten path to sites including Coquina Beach and Bridge Street. During the tours, they can also peer at the beauty of the Gulf waters and the architectural grandeur of the island's vacation homes without having to step on hot sand or commandeer teenagers' roller skates.
Licensed Zumba instructor Beth Golden—who also holds certifications from the AFAA, Red Cross, and PADI—leads easy-to-follow dance routines inspired by Latin salsa, merengue, and tango moves. A soundtrack of high-energy tunes and rolling r’s keep students motivated as she helps them shimmy off pounds with or without the help of muscle-toning sticks. She regularly changes up her dance routines to prevent boredom and keep feet guessing. In addition to group classes in the studio, Beth hosts private Zumba parties, taking her portable speakers and headset to beaches, parks, offices, or clients' homes to liven up special events.