Saturday, November 4, 2017

Mike Strahle and Trapseats

In 1984, Mike Strahle purchased a Hobie 16 catamaran, his first sailboat. Whiskeytown Lake near Redding, Calif., offers sparkling water, magnificent mountain views, and warm summer breezes—a great place to sail. Then, he broke his neck the next winter while snow skiing at Squaw Valley USA. The accident left him with C5 quadriplegia. Now severely disabled, he could not move from the shoulders down, had no grip in his hands, and couldn’t even lift his arm high enough to feed himself using an adaptive fork/spoon holder.

Strahle struggled to accept his new life. One morning during his months of hospitalization, his occupational therapist was trying to help him find a way to feed himself, but his first bite fell on his shirt.  This was a turning point in Strahle’s life, as he became upset and left the cafeteria.  On the way outside in his power wheelchair, he noticed a fellow quadriplegic being fed breakfast by his mother. Strahle sat outside in the sun and thought about what just happened. “Instead of feeling sorry for myself, all I could think about was Tim, the other quad,” Strahle recalls. “He was only 18 and was completely paralyzed. He could not feed himself, ever, and could not even breathe without a diaphragm belt. I felt like such a jerk! I also realized how lucky I was.”

The next morning, a therapist had ideas to help Strahle lighten his arm so he could feed himself.  Strahle had other ideas, though, and said, “I don’t think I need any help.”  In reality, he needed to try a little harder. His first bite was a bull’s-eye, and he’s been feeding himself ever since.  

Sails glide across a picturesque lake in Redding, Calif. Photo courtesy Redding Yacht Club. “I was eager to see what else I could do,” Strahle says. “I not only accepted my new existence but also decided to have as much fun as possible. I also planned to return to the ski slopes, and especially, get back on my sailboat on Whiskeytown Lake. In fact, the very day after returning home from the hospital, I went sailing. With help from family and friends, I was flying a hull once again on my favorite lake. It was hard to sit up and see, so on the way home that day I designed a metal-frame seat I could attach to my boat. We stopped at a local muffler shop, and I asked the mechanic to grab some welding rod. I showed him where I wanted to attach the frame to the boat, the length of the frame, where to bend it, and how to design some brackets to attach it.”

The following day, Strahle drove to a local canvas shop and had some material/canvas made that would hang down like a hammock. Friends and family helped attach the frame to the boat and lace up the canvas material. Then they took the boat sailing.

“The seat and frame worked perfectly,” says Strahle. “I was the first to try it out. Two people lifted me into the seat, which gave me back and side support. It was more comfortable than my wheelchair could ever be. I could not only see but also found a way to steer using the tiller stick with a knob attached to it.”

It was “sweet,” and Strahle quickly realized he could start racing again. He competed in the Whiskeytown Regatta three weeks later — and hasn’t missed it in 26 years to date.

“Whiskeytown Lake is the perfect venue for disabled sailing, so I started hosting disabled sailing regattas for the first time in California,” Strahle explains. “The event was named after my invention: Trapseat.”

The Pan-Pacific Trapseat Cup has taken place on Whiskeytown Lake every year since 1989.  This year it is May 25–31, 2012. The Trapseat Class has grown worldwide, and the first official ISAF/IFDS World Trapseat Championship was hosted in Canada in 2002. Now, the Trapseat Class has become one of the most competitive disabled sailing classes in the world.  Dennis Connor, a famous America’s Cup skipper, donated a trophy — the “International Trapseat Cup (ITC),” which is now the America’s Cup for disabled sailors. The next ITC event will be in San Diego, in November 2013.
“Soon, we hope to host the U.S. National Disabled Sailing Championships at Whiskeytown Lake, and encourage all wounded warriors — experienced or not — to come for an adventure at one of the most beautiful places on earth,” Strahle says.

Article originally written by Sports N Spokes in 2012

Visit the official Trapseat Class site on the FunToSAIL website at . Or see above and click on Trapseat tab.

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