Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=190011
Story Retrieval Date: 5/25/2013 6:48:47 AM CST
Harry Horgan grew up in Newport, R.I., a town iconic for its sailing culture, and Horgan was a part of the world. His family owned Christie’s, a classic waterfront restaurant frequented by visiting sailors, and he participated in the requisite summer sailing as a kid growing up on the East Coast.
Then, one night in 1980 that began normally enough changed his life forever. Horgan fell out of a truck and injured his spinal cord. Doctors told him he would never walk again. He was 22 years old.
More than three decades later, Horgan continues sailing, thanks in part to his own contributions to the adaptive movement. Before the Americans with Disabilities Act even passed in 1990, Horgan had created Shake-A-Leg in 1982, an organization dedicated to helping disabled persons continue to do the activities they loved. One of the most requested pastimes of the Newport non-profit? Sailing, Horgan said.
“We’d borrow boats to take people out, and the press got wind of that,” he said. “Before long, Everett Pearson (founder of Pearson Yachts), contacted me about working together on a project to develop an adaptive sailboat.”
The result of this collaboration was the Freedom 20, an extremely stable boat built with all the lines coming into the cockpit – which is open – and a self-tending jib (the smaller sail on a boat). For an individual unable to move around the cockpit easily, these adaptations are the keys to allowing a stress-free sail. And they worked, because similar adaptive sailing programs began popping up wherever there was a body of water big enough to handle the boats. (See interactive map).
Soon, disabled sailors were moving out of the Freedom’s, now considered the “starter boats,” and into the new three-crew Sonar keelboats and one-person 2.4 meter-keelboats. By 1996, sailing had been added as a demonstration sport at the Paralympics. Four years later, it was a medal sport in Sydney.
Horgan had been there when the movement launched, and he decided it was time to expand his own line south. In 1990, he agreed to open a year-round Shake-A-Leg program in Miami. Now one of the largest adaptive water sports facilities in the nation, Horgan credits the passion of a few for the joy of many.
“There’s magic on the water, in that you can leave your disability on the dock and just go for a sail,” he said. “It’s an activity you can still do, even if you’re severely disabled.”
Peter Goldman’s father, Justin “Judd” Goldman, had echoed that sentiment to his son not long before he died in 1989.
The elder Goldman suffered a disabling bone disease when he was 17 years old, and found himself unable to participate in most of the sports his peers enjoyed. But for the next 58 years, he sailed competitively, even founding the Olympic one-design Dragon sailboat class in Chicago.
“He often told me he couldn’t do football or baseball, but even with his disability, he was on equal ground with others when he was sailing,” Goldman said.
After his death, Peter Goldman, his mother Sliv and sister Judy founded the Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Foundation. They started the program in conjunction with the Chicago Park District and three Freedom 20’s. Today, the fleet includes eight Freedom 20’s, 11 Sonars and four 2.4 meter keelboats. This past summer season, the program hosted more than 1,000 participants.
Boats in adaptive fleets often have additional features tailored to the specific participant. Sip ‘n’ Puff technology enables sailors to trim the sails or direct the tiller by simply biting a plastic straw and breathing in or out. The design is so advanced even a quadriplegic can sail using the system.
Many boats also feature seatbelts to make disabled sailors feel more secure, counterweighted seats that assist in sliding from one side of the boat to the other and transfer-boarding and –unloading benches to move in and out of the sailboats. The adaptations are key to putting disabled sailors at ease, Goldman said.
“Often these people have been injured and are terrified of coming near the water,” he said. “We have to have adaptations like this to overcome those mental challenges.”
It’s figuring out those adaptations and thereby bringing new disabled people into the sport that has kept Horgan at Shake-A-Leg for more than 20 years, he said.
“The pride comes from having that safe platform by which we can serve and introduce the novice sailor,” he said. “Then, a few years later you see those same sailors at the pinnacle of their sport, and you know that initial experience was a launching point for a movement. It’s pretty exciting to see.”
View Adaptive Sailing Locations in a larger map