Adaptive Sailing: Equalizer for Veterans with Disabilities

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If you have never given thought to adaptive sailing, a nonprofit group of disabled sailors and volunteers in San Diego is making it possible for individuals with disabilities to personally sail an adaptive boat.

Challenged Sailors San Diego – which provides therapeutic and recreational adaptive sailing opportunities to individuals with disabilities – offers a fleet of eight Martin 16 sailboats specifically designed for adaptive sailing.

On May 9, 2015 – following Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Annual Convention in San Diego – several leaders of Paralyzed Veterans spent an afternoon sailing the adaptive boats around Coronado Bay.

“Our national vice president and executive committee members each got to sail their own boat,” said Ernie Butler, associate director of sports and recreation for Paralyzed Veterans of America. “They were not passengers; they were sailors at the helm of every boat.”

Challenged Sailors offers accessible facilities equipped with a lift for transferring sailors from wheelchairs into the boats. Once on board, adaptive sailors have an opportunity to select controls – a small electric joystick or a sip-and-puff mouthpiece – to enable steering and trimming of the sails.

“It’s just amazing how these little vessels of joy have been adapted to allow almost everyone the opportunity to sail,” said Cheri Arnold, president of the Mid-South Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America and a C5-6 incomplete quadriplegic.

Challenged Sailors offers adaptive sailing to individuals with disabilities free of charge and typically sails on Friday and Saturday afternoons, though special dates can be arranged.

“Your sailing experience can be as calm or as exciting as you wish,” Arnold said. “If you just want to sail around the bay and enjoy the beauty of the other sailboats and the port, you can choose to play it safe. If you want to step it up, you can get the sailboat up on the side and cut through the water for a huge thrill. It’s up to you!”

Butler said the day of sailing was just one example of how Paralyzed Veterans of America is working to expand opportunities for veterans with disabilities to participate in water sports, including sailing, kayaking and scuba diving. Water sports in particular are an equalizer for individuals with disabilities, Butler said.

“Once our veterans are out in the water or in a boat, they’re pretty much on the same playing field as anybody else,” Butler said. “That’s something that most veterans find very rewarding. It’s a good, healthy way to spend a day.”

More information for participating in Challenged Sailors program can be found at this link.