Sail To Prevail brings zero-emissions sailing to people with disabilities (with video)

Held in 1996 in Newport, RI, Sail To Prevail has enabled tens of thousands of people with physical disabilities to learn to sail and experience the personal empowerment that comes from controlling a sailboat. During these 40 years, Sail to Win did not create a single molecule of carbon dioxide while sailing on Narragansett Bay.

The program has a fleet of 7 specially equipped Independence sailboats fitted with swivel seats that allow participants to steer and adjust the sails while securely strapped in. Boats are kept on specially constructed docks with wide ramps. They have hydraulic lifts and transfer benches to help sailors access and leave the boats in complete safety and comfort.

The Sail To Prevail program was created by Paul Callahan, quadriplegic and two-time Paralympian in sailing in the United States. A registered charity, it originally focused on alternative or Eastern medical therapies and combined them with traditional American medical therapies. The goal was for each individual with paralysis to be able to walk again or, at a minimum, achieve their maximum human potential. As alternative medicine became mainstream, Mr. Callahan narrowed the organization’s focus to a single methodology of having children and adults overcome adversity through the sport of sailing.

The first navigation program took place in the summer of 1997 with 8 paralyzed people. Sail To Prevail has now grown to serve over 1500 people a year. It supports people with disabilities in several different categories.

  • Photo by Steve Hanley for CleanTechnica. All rights reserved.

    Physical disabilities – including those requiring physical therapy, amputation, cerebral palsy, deafness, muscular dystrophy, blindness and paraplegia or quadriplegia.

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Sail To Prevail offers special programs for veterans with disabilities, including PTSD. Its services also extend to their family members.
  • Intellectual Disabilities – Sail To Prevail instructors are trained to work with people with Autism, ADD/ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, Down’s Syndrome, and cognitive impairments caused by Multiple Sclerosis and others diseases.
  • Cancer – As part of the “Sail Away from Cancer” program, pediatric cancer patients sail with resident physicians and family members to create a unique “out of hospital” experience.
  • Epilepsy – Often referred to as a seizure disorder, this medical condition affects more than 3.4 million people in the United States, and Sail To Prevail offers group sessions with Epilepsy Foundation New England.
  • Emotional Disabilities – Dedicated to people who experience emotional trauma in their lives, Sail To Prevail seeks to enhance the positives that come from participating in the calming and nurturing environment of sailing.
  • Life-threatening Medical Conditions – Sail To Prevail salutes Make-A-Wish’s mission to create life-changing wishes for children with serious illnesses. We can help grant a veil wish to every medically eligible child.
  • Training and Racing Program – In 2010, Sail To Prevail was the first adaptive sailing program to become an official Paralympic sports club in the United States and provide extensive training and racing off and on the water.

These programs encourage people with disabilities to actively participate in the boating experience. They steer the boat, sharpen the winches and trim the sails. Sail To Prevail participants demonstrate increased self-confidence in all aspects of their daily lives, the camaraderie of teamwork, and enhanced leadership skills.

Sail To Prevail is based out of Fort Adams in Newport, Rhode Island. He also initiated a decade-long program in Nantucket, Massachusetts, as well as a 5-year collaboration with the Harvard University Varsity Sailing Team. Paul Callahan has personally raised over $20 million to accelerate this mission.

What Sail To Prevail participants are saying

The participants’ comments touch the heart. “I felt the wind on my face. I like the feeling of sailing,” explains David, who is blind. Bethany, 13, said: “At first I never wanted to drive the boat, but after seeing the instructor do it, I decided I could do it too! If I can sail, it made me realize that I can do a lot with my life!

“I would really like to congratulate you and the staff for the amazing sailing program you organized this summer for the benefit of the veterans. Perfect weather, the best Newport setting, well-prepared gear and staff on deck. A day to remember. The staff were particularly good and professional in their dealings with veterans and their particular disabilities. The total experience was pleasant and refreshing. What could be better? These programs improve the quality of life for each individual and provide experiences that will never be forgotten. Thank you Sail to Prevail staff. This work does not go unnoticed and is truly appreciated. — Richard Early, President, Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 116.

This comment from Sean is the best of all. “I have multiple disabilities ranging from Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, seizure disorders and autism. Sensory integration has always been a central part of my daily routine to successfully live my life to the fullest. So I was still in high school, I had the opportunity to start sailing with Sail to Win through their summer camp.

“My first outing was indescribable. I experienced connecting with the world around me in a whole new way. My body, often uncooperative with my expectations, became one with the movement of the boat. I felt the power of the wind move the boat and myself through the water with an ease that unified my senses. Every time I sail, I experience the same feelings of relaxation except when there is no wind and I can’t wait to feel the sensations of sailing.

“I look forward to sailing every summer and the feelings of accomplishment I experience after getting out on the boat. That sense of accomplishment and sensory balance pervades all areas of my life. Not being able to sail, it’s like having no fruit to eat My life is better balanced when I can navigate.

Takeaway meals

Sailing is a zero-emission activity that connects us to the natural world. Instead of forcing the seas into submission like motorboats do, sailboats adapt to the rhythm of the waves and the force of the wind. This connection to the physical world is what makes sailing such a powerful experience. Paul Callahan has made it possible for so many people with disabilities to feel this power. The world is better because it is there.


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