Thursday, January 20, 2011

Spokesman Review DisAbled Sailing

There was a time when Scott Bailey viewed life from his wheelchair as a never-ending struggle.

After a car accident severed his spinal column in 1990, leaving the then-20 year old paralyzed from the waist down, moving about on a day-to-day basis proved a difficult undertaking. Several years later, an experience even more unimaginable transpired.

“I had a wound and it went to the bone. It healed up, but the bone was exposed to air too long,” explained Bailey, 40, of Spokane. “So a few years after that, I started getting sick, wondering what’s going on … It would be in middle of August and I was wearing winter coats, just shaking from being cold. Come to find out I had osteomyelitis in my legs and it was moving up into my pelvic bone. Then in 2000, they finally shipped me to (the University of Washington) and amputated my legs.”

Bailey, who stood 5-feet-9 before the surgery, had always loved working with his hands and dreamed of becoming a deckhand on an Alaskan fishing boat. That changed, however, as he adapted to his now 2-foot-11 stature and confined sense of mobility. “Here I was, 28 years old, wondering what’s what, you know. But they gave me a second chance at life,” he said of the surgeons at UW.

What he lost in physical form, Bailey gained in psychological strength. And thanks to a friend, Hayden resident Miles Moore, whom he met in 2003, Bailey has learned to see through his disability with Moore’s everything-is-accessible attitude.

The two hit it off immediately, and Moore showed the wheelchair-bound Bailey that any preconceived notions about disabilities don’t have to apply outdoors. Having earned a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, Moore operates the Hayden-based business Sail Marine, which is where several years ago he introduced Bailey to a new passion in life – sailing.

Gliding atop a placid Lake Coeur d’Alene on a recent weekday afternoon, Bailey operated the rudder while Moore manned the ropes on his 33-foot “Windwalker” catamaran sailboat. The duo were cruising the lake as part of a recreational therapy sailing class offered by Moore’s business. It’s one of several options, which includes a “dry” learn-to-sail course taught this fall in the KROC Center swimming pool with radio-controlled sailboats, an online sailing class that’s taught with a text and RC models, and a few others on the lake, such as the “It’s Tiller Time Sailing School” beginner’s course and a cruising/navigation/team building class.

“What we are trying to do now is recruit more sailors because I think there are a lot of people who don’t even know they can do this stuff,” Moore said, straddling the mat on the wind-swept boat.

A native of Westport, Wash., Moore started recreational therapy by offering hand-cycling classes for wheelchair-bound individuals in 1995. As a youth with a learning disability, youth at risk, Moore has always wanted to help others.

Sailing became an obvious way to do that once he took a few friends out on the water.

“I met Scott and a few other guys and they really liked sailing, and it’s been the love of my life since I was 6. I’ve never looked back and I just love it, so it was just a natural progression that way,” he explained. “Now I just focus on sailing. Rec-therapy is called ‘active treatment,’ and you’re helping them reintegrate into life, and into an active lifestyle.”

Last winter, SAIL (Self Awareness In Leisure) gained its nonprofit status. Now, Moore is looking to fill the class rosters, which includes courses on small sailing dinghies for fun. But it’s not just for persons with disabilities; able-bodied are just as welcome. Disabled, Moore stated, is a term he’s does not like to use.

He prefers “accessible,” since his classes are open to all.

“They are not disabled classes; they are accessible classes. Whether you have a disability or not, you can be a part of the class; even if you have a disability, the boats are accessible,” he said. Moore said the allure of sailing is universal, though people with disabilities might find it especially freeing. “Most of the people I work with like the peace and tranquility of sailing. A lot of them are constantly going to the hospital, seeing doctors, being poked and prodded, and it’s nice to just get out on the water, get away. They can leave it at the shoreline. Just come out and enjoy it,” he said. “When people ask if I work with the disabled, I say no, I don’t. You’re only as disabled as you allow yourself to be.”

Added Bailey, who sat propped up against a side railing as he guided the craft across the low waves: “That’s just it – it’s the peace and quiet, and the wind in your hair. Holding the rudder, you can actually feel the water underneath you.”

Moore described the sometimes-difficult nature of being a recreational therapist because of the severe nature of some of the injuries he encounters.

“Over time I’ve had some people who’ve passed away, or become really frail and just can’t do it anymore,” he said about working with persons with disabilities. “Now we’re getting ready to really go gung-ho. We’re trying to still grab a few people by the end of the season … try to get them thinking that this is something they might want to do.”

The learn-to-sail course begins run April-October, and indoor radio controlled sailboat classes take place year round. With the model sailing indoor classes the first session, a two-hour Saturday morning class, Moore will show the basics by using a sailing simulator that spins with sail bands attached, making it easier to learn how to read the wind. In the second session, everyone will learn the ropes by taking control of RC sailboats.

“It’s really good because people can come right up to the edge of the pool and learn the whole process of sailing, all indoors. Then they just take what they learned there and transfer it into a full-size boat like this,” he said.

But that’s not all they’re planning. If they can raise the necessary funds, Moore and Bailey hope to compete in next year’s national championship for disabled and nondisabled teams.

“We’re trying to put an accessible team together of people with disabilities and able-body and hopefully go down to Newport, Calif., to do the big regatta they have down there,” Moore said. “We’re trying to get some funding … It’s something we’ve been trying to do for a while.”

Since learning to sail, Bailey has added a range of outdoor sports to his list of activities. He also downhill skis and has performed in several hand-cycling marathons.

“The first couple of years being in the chair, I did a lot of pushing … I never thought the struggle would end, and it never does. But it was so, so hard,” he said. “But you’ve got to get your body tuned … Now, it still tires me out sometimes but I feel like I can go forever.

“I always wondered what my niche in life is. Now, I think I’ve found it,” he said. “If you set your mind to it, you can do anything in this world, with or without a disability.”

By Jacob Livingston of the Spokesman Review

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