Wheelchairs, walkers and worries stay on shore when folks set sail with Footloose Sailing, a Northwest nonprofit sailing program for people of all disabilities.
Wheelchairs, walkers and worries stay on shore when folks set sail with Footloose Sailing (www.footloosesailing.org), a Northwest nonprofit sailing program for people of all disabilities. Launched in 1991, it’s run by volunteers with a small fleet of dinghies, Martins and Columbias — all accessible via controls rigged to either a joystick or a device that lets you give commands by sipping and puffing on a mouth wand. “If you can joystick or sip ‘n’ puff,” says co-founder Bob Ewing, “you can sail a boat.” Their motto: “Leave your disability at the dock.” You can ride along, or learn to crew and skipper. “There’s a lot more going on than just sailing,” Ewing says. “There’s healing, there’s friendship. You’re doing something that gets you out of your disability.”
Some thoughts from Faron Shanklin, a 46-year-old Footloose sailor. In 1985, while working the night shift at a gas station, a robber shot him in the neck, leaving him as a quadriplegic who uses a chin-controlled joystick to get around — including on the water.
“They plopped me on a boat, and I fell in love. It’s so peaceful and tranquil, and you just got the laps of the waves hitting the hull. Then they put me in the 16-foot Martin that I can control with sip-and-puff or joystick method. I have an extra collar, so I’m able to operate the sails and rudder. What I like is the freedom. I like being in control. If I want to steer to port, I can steer to port. Or come about or go wherever I feel like it. It’s a piece of independence that I usually don’t have.
“The wind is your power. With the wind, you can pick it up and zoom real fast or go downwind and kick back and relax and not really pay attention and space off and enjoy the quietness and the view of Mount Rainier or Mount Baker.
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“Of course, it’s a leap of faith. I mean, getting up is a leap of faith, isn’t it? Living is a leap of faith. I know people that are quadriplegic and they don’t get out of bed. They find a reason to stay in bed, and the next thing you know they have a bedsore that needs healing and it’s an endless cycle. Getting out is the most important thing. Sailing lifts one’s spirits.”