Helping those with special needs

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 30, 2002

Ten years ago I had the good fortune to serve as the Anne Arundel County (Md.) Physical Fitness Committee’s Chairman. One of the greatest parts of that two-year experience was being part of a group that strongly advocated fitness and recreational programs for physically challenged participants.

Perhaps the best memory was a one-up/one-down tennis tournament, in which doubles teams played against each other. One was able-bodied, the other in a wheel chair. It was a wonderful experience for all concerned.

Two days ago I ran across a Web site that had a multitude of information on programs for physically challenged athletes. What caught my eye was the vast number of programs thro-ughout the country that have been designed for sailors that are physically challenged.

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The first is the Chesapeake Region Accessible Boat (CR-AB) Sail Free program. Foun-ded in 1991 this fully non-profit organization is &uot;dedicated to providing sailing opportunities to persons with physical disabilities and their families.&uot; Based right up the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis Maryland CRAB uses specially designed Free-dom Independence 20 Keel Slopes that are essentially unsinkable and are designed with special seats.

Normal operations has volunteer skippers and crew from CRAB (there is no paid staff) take-out groups in these specially designed vessels. There is annual two-day Regatta, the CRAB Cup, which is a qualifying race for the national disabled sailing event.

Throughout the country the United States Sailing Association coordinates Sailors With Special Needs. The Association’s committee that addresses this issue has a very simple goal – to make sailing and sailboat racing available to everyone. This committee also oversees the Independence Cup, selecting the US Disabled Sailing Team, and works with the Olympic Sailing Committee selecting a team to compete in the Paralympic Regatta.

Furth-ermore, they address the issues of training, education and access to sailing and boating facilities for those with special needs.

A visit to the USSA Sailor With Special Need web site (www.ussailing.org/swsn) is truly eye-opening. Under the &uot;Sea Tales&uot; section, all the different SWSN programs throu-ghout the country are listed, from San Diego to St Peters-burg.

There is an entire section on adaptive equipment that shows a wide array of unique approaches to allow sailors with special need to enjoy the water despite their physical challenges. For example, there are pictures of an individual sailing in an &uot;access dinghy&uot; who is a quadriplegic!

One program that was especially innovative is the &uot;Shake-A-Leg&uot; organization in New-port, RI. There mission is &uot;to provide maintenance, complementary, and recreational therapeutic services that develop independent living skills for individuals who have experienced spinal cord injury and related nervous system disorders.&uot; Visit their site at www.shakeleg.org.

Developing programs for sailors with special needs is another example of making the water available and safe for everyone.

Until next week – Boat Safe, Boat Smart!

LCDR DiRenzo is a regular columnist for the Suffolk News-Herald.