ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – As 15 knot winds with gusts up to 20 filled the sails of the numerous boats on the water, propelling them quietly on Tampa Bay Nov. 7, 18 service members and veterans serving as crewmembers were getting much more than a joyride , they were getting therapy.
The injured service members were taking part in the inaugural U.S. Sailing Military Sailboat Racing Camp, which was organized through St. Petersburg Yacht Club, U.S. Sailing and U.S. Special Operations Command’s Care Coalition. The driving force of the program is Jen French who is the 2012 Paralympic Games’ silver medalist in sailing. After returning from the 2012 games, she was determined to reach out to disabled veterans and wanted to host a training camp that was more than just taking veterans on a sailboat ride, but teaching them the skills and techniques of sailing.
“I think this is a way to give back to those who have served us so well.” said French, who was paralyzed from the waist down from a snowboarding accident 15 years ago. “This is a great life skill that we can give to them. The benefits of this boot camp (for the participants) are not only leadership and teamwork, but they are learning how to be self-reliant.”
French worked with Cory Kapes, who is the Military Adaptive Sports Program (MASP) Site Coordinator for SOCOM, and Shawn Macking, the Waterfront Director of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. MASP is designed to enhance recovery by engaging ill, injured, and wounded warriors early in individualized physical and cognitive activities outside of traditional therapy settings. The program hopes to inspire recovery and physical fitness and encourage new opportunities for growth and achievement.
“It’s overwhelming and pleasing to see the community come together to be able to do a camp for these men and women,” French said.
The St. Petersburg Yacht Club has supported Paralympic sailing events and community sailing for many years. Their sailing facility, fleet of sailboats, and equipment is uniquely adapted to increase accessibility for people with various disabilities, Macking stated.
“The benefits of physical activity for injured service members include reduced stress, increased quality of life, lower blood pressure, weight management, and enhancement of the rehabilitative process,” Kapes said.
French, Kapes and Macking developed the three-day “intense” sailing boot camp, which they hope will continue and possibly expand across the country.
“Simply put, participating in this program gave us an opportunity to give back to those who have served our country and allowed us to share the sport we love with a group of people who otherwise may not have had this opportunity,” Macking said.
One of the participants of the sailing boot camp was U.S. Army Sgt. Roosevelt J. Anderson Jr. During the sailboat boot camp, Anderson celebrated his “life-day.” His “life-day” is like a birthday for most, but to him, it’s the day he received another chance at life -- it’s the one year anniversary of his accident. On Nov. 4, 2012, Anderson was in a motorcycle accident that left him unable to walk after his T4 and T5 vertebrae were injured. He is currently attached to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) at Ft. Campbell, Ky.
“This program has allowed me to progress,” Anderson said. “This injury is not the end of the world and it’s awesome to be able to socialize with other soldiers going through the same ordeal.”
The course taught the service members basic sailboat safety, grounding remedies, sailing in currents, finding wind direction, boat balance and other procedures needed to operate a sailboat. On the final day, service members were performing all tasks required to maneuver through the water and were sailing on their own.
“Through engagement in adaptive sports and recreation, the Wounded Warrior Athlete Reconditioning Program promotes physical/mental fitness, camaraderie/mentorship, and enhances the overall health and welfare of wounded, ill or injured Special Operations Forces,” Kapes said. “SOCOM’s program specifically will provide monthly training camps in various sports and other opportunities throughout the year to engage SOF service members in adaptive recreation and sports.”
For more information about Military Adaptive Sports Program please visit: http://warriorcare.dodlive.mil/wounded-warrior-resources/athletic-reconditioning/