Paralympic Games 2012: the freedom of sailing

Paralympic Games 2012: the freedom of sailing

In our series of articles about the London Paralympic Games 2012 we talk to you about the Paralympic sports you love.

This week, new Disability Horizons contributor, Emma Crees, tells us about her love for sailing and the feeling of freedom it gives her.

Sitting in the boat in the middle of the water, I move the tiller slightly to change my course, adjust the ropes and feel the sail fill. Suddenly the boat takes off, moving across the water as if it’s flying. Water splashes up as the boat powers through it and goes all over me, making me scream with surprise. Scream and then laugh because there’s nothing better then that moment when it comes together and works. I really do love to sail.

Wind the clock back seven years and you return to the day my friend first suggested that I should give sailing a go. I said no, point blank. I was glad that he enjoyed it and I was interested in hearing about it. But it wasn’t for me. He said he loved it and he thought I would too. It was a conversation which was to be repeated time and again for a year, until I gave in and said I would go, once. If I didn’t want to go again that was to be that.

I was nervous on the way there but everyone I met was really nice and reassuring. They soon had me in a boat and before I knew it I was sailing! I really enjoyed bobbing around on the water having a chat about this and that, and learning a tiny bit of sailing at the same time, of course! I must admit I was reluctant for the experience to end – I’d been bitten by the sailing bug. The first thing I said to my friend when I got onto dry land was “can I come again next week?”

In the years since that first sail, I’ve been to regattas, I’ve sailed two different types of boats, I’ve made good friends and I’ve had lots of laughs and so much more.

I’ve also been on a couple of trips with the Jubilee Sailing Trust. They have two tall ships which take out to sea crews of 50% able-bodied and 50% disabled people for several days or weeks at a time. When onboard you do as much as you can, so I was able to help set the sails, steer the ship, and do look out. I also did mess duty (food prep) and happy hour (which I discovered is cleaning the ship… not having a drink and relaxing!).

On one voyage they got me and my wheelchair up the mast into the crow’s nest, using just a few ropes and several people working together. I screamed the entire way up and they kept asking if I wanted to stop, but the screams were of enjoyment not fear. The view was amazing. It might seem like a little thing but when you spend your life on wheels, getting to do something like this is huge. I will always be grateful to the people who made that possible for me.

I think my favourite memory from my time with the Jubilee Sailing Trust is that of the night watch. I was on the 4am to 8am watch one morning, just anchored off the Western Isles of Scotland. The scenery was astounding, I hadn’t realised that we had views like that here in the UK. The sun rose not long after the watch started, something I hadn’t experienced before, and it was stunning. The sheer variety of colours and how often it changed really took my breath away – such a simple few moments and so peaceful too.  That sunrise alone made the trip worth every penny I paid for it. Some photos of that sunrise are on the wall by my bed. I look at them every day and they make me smile, reminding me of a wonderful time.

Sailing is a huge part of my life. I never expected it to mean so much to me – and yet I never wanted to try it in the first place.  Saying yes to something new (when I’d spent a year saying no), meant that one off challenge changed my life for the better.

Check out this Parasport video on sailing with Rutland Sailability:

Look out for the Paralympic TV coverage of sailing, from the 1st to 6th September, and visit the Paralympic Games 2012 website’s Sailing section for more information and who is competing.

By Emma Crees

Visit Emma’s blog Writer in a Wheelchair for more about her life and experiences.

• See our article on accessible sailing with Rudyard Sailability.
• Find more activities for you in our Sport section.

Get in touch by emailing us at editor@disabilityhorizons.com, tweeting us at @DHorizons or messaging us on Facebook.