In Clearwater Sailing Is For Everyone
The picture of the Special Olympic Athlete as a smiling youngster running or swimming across a finish line has been expanded at the Clearwater Sailing Center. Now they can also be pictured at the tiller of a sailboat with sails spread to catch the wind, racing, not just other Special Olympic athletes, but also in regular regattas.
Next week-end the Fifth Annual State Sailing Championships will take place in Clearwater Bay with 25 boats participating from around the state and an outstanding representation from Special Olympics, Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco, all of whom train at the Clearwater Sailing Center on Sand Key.
The athletes sail in a boat called the Access Dinghy, a 17-foot, 2 man boat with the main and jib sail of a sloop rigging. These boats are designed so that sailors who are physically, mentally or visually impaired can sail them. Some are ventilator equipped, or electrically steered, or even steered by blowing on a straw like device similar to the device on some wheelchairs. Above all, the Access Dinghy simply will not capsize.
The Special Olympics sailing program in Clearwater is a non-profit organization called Sailability of Greater Tampa Bay, under the direction of Sandy Ackley. Currently Sailability has 17 trained teams of sailors.
In the beginning, five years ago, Special Olympic Athletes had two weeks of training. They were each paired with sailors who had been certified by the Sailing Center as qualified to be in charge of a boat. The word went out that the Clearwater Sailing Center was starting a training and racing program for Special Olympics athletes who wanted to sail.
"When 25 athletes showed up," says Ms. Ackley, "we were calling all the certified sailors we knew to come and help take Special Olympic athletes out sailing and racing. It was such a success that we held an eight week training session the second year."
Teams that race the boats are usually made up of a Special Olympic athlete and a certified sailor. The Special Olympic member of the team performs as many of the sailing tasks as he can with the certified sailor doing the rest. As the program proceeded many parents of the athletes asked to be trained as certified sailors so that they could team with their children. To everyone's delight, it was soon discovered that some of the athletes were able to learn to race on their own.
Currently the Sailability Greater Tampa Bay teams train once a month. They also participate in regattas throughout the state, frequently bringing home trophies to show their championship victories.
On May 3 and 4, Clearwater Bay will be dotted with Access Dinghies, captained by Special Olympics athletes and crewed by accredited sailors. Twenty-five teams are expected to compete. Clearwater is fortunate to have a program like this based in our community.
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