A conversation with David Camilo • Live Sail Die
David Camilo, 36, started sailing at the age of 24 at the Lake Norman Yacht Club in Club 420. Camilo, who is autistic, started swimming and playing basketball and bowling with the Special Olympics in New York before moving to North Carolina. In his new hometown, Camilo became involved with the local Lake Norman High School sailing team and soon transitioned into full-fledged regattas, including as skipper for the annual Southwest Special Olympics. is.
In Special Olympics competitions, athletes with disabilities are paired with a non-disabled teammate, known as a “unified partner.” In these cases, the skipper controls the helm while the crew controls the sails. Camilo often skippered these events with Sarah Chambers as her crew.
Camilo spoke with US Sailing about his introduction to the sport and his time with Special Olympics sailing for Autism Acceptance Month.
Sailing in the United States: So tell me, how did you first get involved with the local high school sailing team?
David: I was with the Lake Norman Yacht Club team at the time. One of the coaches there, [Craig Milliken] his son, Brad Milliken, introduced me as one of the sailors. Then I took part in the July 4 regatta. We had our first practice there when the Special Olympics was just getting started, and I wasn’t really into it at first, but when I got into it a second time, I started having fun. .
American sailing: So, the first time you sailed, you weren’t too sure, but the second time, you liked it a lot. What made you change your mind?
David: Yeah, so in the first practice I still had the sea legs, so to speak, and I got hit in the head with the boom for the first time. I ended up getting off the boat with a massive headache and wasn’t sure I wanted to come back. But thanks to this experience, I learned to duck and I learned to navigate with pleasure since.
American sailing: So as you strived to be a better sailor, did you learn anything about yourself as you went along?
David: Yes! I learned through sailing to become autonomous, self-aware and to take initiatives to act in situation. If I hadn’t started sailing then, I don’t think I could have learned those particular life skills then – I would have learned them much later or not at all.
American sailing: These are really good lessons. Now tell me about how Special Olympics is organized and how you got to the position of skipper?
David: Well, the skipper completely surprised me because I was a crew member for a few years, and I had mastered it in training and in regattas. My coach, Lisa Chambers, felt I was ready for the next level, which is to steer the boat. At that time, I was mainly concentrating on the steering part, the management of the rudder and the tiller. There were times when the crew and I worked on each other, or I gave an order and made a decision about where to go next.
American sailing: What do you remember from your first time as skipper?
David: I remember getting to the back of the boat and leaving for practice. Like when you drive a car for the first time you get nervous and you don’t know what to expect, but I was lucky to have a lot of teammates who were very helpful, very supportive and understanding, breaking down the step by step things for me. So I had that for me. Thank God for that.
American sailing: Yes, support people make all the difference. Did you feel like you were ready to skipper, or that you had to be ‘pushed out of the nest’, so to speak? Did your coach have to push you or were you willing to try?
David: Looking back, I think it was a bit of both. Sometimes we Special Olympics athletes need a little push to take it to the next level, and I think from my perspective it was the right choice to make. It was what I needed to take it to the next level. I mean, sure, I was a little anxious and nervous at the time, but I felt like it was necessary for me to step out of my comfort zone, because lo and behold, I love the skipper than the crew. Maybe even more.
American sailing: This is a very good prospect. So, do you have a lot of contact with people in the autism community outside of Special Olympics?
David: Yes. In fact, I’m part of this group in Davidson, North Carolina called the Ignite program, which specializes in educating people with autism in terms of going to college, finding a job, and living off independently. I’ve been involved with it for eight years now and have made many friends on the autism spectrum since then.
American sailing: Have you taken any of them sailing?
David: Yes, I brought a friend of mine, Robert, on the team, and he loves sailing as much as I do. He drives a much bigger boat, the Hobie 16. It’s always cool to hang out with him, talk about sailing and be in the water together.
American sailing: Do you know autistic sailors in other clubs?
David: Yes, I have met other autistic people who boat outside of Lake Norman [Yacht Club] through the regattas we sailed to Charleston, South Carolina and then to Macon, Georgia. It’s always a joy whenever we get together as they are so friendly and welcoming to us. There is a lot of commonality and camaraderie between the different teams, which is what I love about sailing and the Special Olympics in general.
American sailing: If you could give one message to the sailing community about autistic sailors and people in your community, what would it be? What would you say to people off the spectrum about what it’s like to be on the spectrum and in sports?
David: To the sailing community in the United States, my message is to be open and patient with us because we like to learn step by step. When you give us the love, patience and guidance we need and deserve, I think you can’t ask for better sailors than us. When we receive the right guidance and support, we can exceed all expectations.
You can read more about sailing in Special Olympics here. To become an athlete or volunteer at a Special Olympics event near you, go to www.specialolympics.org.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Interview conducted by Allison Chenard.