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Mobility Cup: International regatta for sailors with disability

by Matthew Wild
National Program Coordinator
Tetra Society of North America

Photographer Brian Dennehy

Competitors at Mobility Cup 2006 jostling for position.

An international regatta for people with disability will be sailing into Halifax, Nova Scotia, next year.

The Mobility Cup regatta is North America's flagship for sailors with disability. The event was first hosted in 1991 and has been growing ever since as it travelled across Canada - but this will be its first appearance in Atlantic Canada.

Mobility Cup 2007 will be run by Sail Able Nova Scotia and hosted at the Dartmouth Yacht Club, Halifax. It will run from 28 August to 1 September 2007, to include one day's training and four of racing. Sailing will be on the Bedford Basin, a sheltered body of water two miles wide and five miles long - where the WWII Atlantic convoys would gather.

Everyone involved anticipates the event will leave a lasting legacy: increased adaptive sailing opportunities for the region. Sail Able Nova Scotia hope to purchase a fleet of 15 adaptive Martin 16 sailboats, and that other clubs for disabled sailors will be started throughout the region.

Sailing provides a unique sporting opportunity for people with disability, as participants are not segregated by the nature of their disability - the only divisions are according to sailing experience.

This is possible because of a new breed of sailboat, designed specifically for the needs of people with disability. For instance, the Canadian-designed Martin 16 sloop allows joystick control, and high-level quadriplegics sail using mouth-operated Sip 'n' Puff interfaces connected to power assisted steering.

Sailors competing in the 2006 Mobility Cup - next year's event is going from Canada's Pacific Coast to the Atlantic provinces.

The Mobility Cup was launched by Sam Sullivan, a high-level quadriplegic who is currently Mayor of Vancouver, BC, in order to promote his then fledgling adaptive sailing program on the West Coast. He instigated the Disabled Sailing Association of British Columbia in 1989.

"We had the idea for the Mobility Cup right at the beginning, around 1989 or 1990," explained Sullivan. "It was important to have people come together and celebrate their achievements, and to do that in the form of a race."

The first Mobility Cup was held in Vancouver in August 1991, and it was immediately clear this could be a vehicle for spreading the word about adaptive sailing - raising the level of competition while promoting the sport to the wider community.

The event has grown a little each of the subsequent years, with the last Mobility Cup, held September 2006 in Vancouver, BC, taking on a truly international significance with six countries represented: Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Hungary and England.

Over the years this event has been the catalyst for advances in the sport - from the world's first sailboat Sip 'n' Puff system, which debuted at Mobility Cup 1993, to the 1995 commissioning of the Martin 16.

Each year's event leaves a legacy for its host community - 2006's was the creation of AbleSailNetwork (ASN), a Canada-wide organization to oversee the development and standards of adaptive sailing as a whole.

Californian Chris Everson finished 12th in the Gold Fleet in Mobility Cup 2006 - he struggled to find form, mixing some of the best sailing in his life with some unforgettable performances.

One of ASN's duties includes overseeing all future Mobility Cups, which included appointing Halifax as the next venue.

ASN chairman Rene Dallaire said the whole organization was excited at the opportunities that would arise from hosting such a prestigious event in Nova Scotia, as it perfectly fitted the Mobility Cup mandate of reaching out to new locations and leaving a legacy.

"It's exciting to be taking this event to a new location," he said. "We feel that there is a lot of expertise that the ASN, and from other people involved in disabled sailing programs over the years, that we can can offer to the organizers in Halifax. They won't be doing things on their own.

"There is a good group of people in Halifax. They have an adaptive sailing program, Sail Able Nova Scotia, which has been running since the mid-1980s, and they have found a host for the Mobility Cub in Dartmouth.

"It's an exciting opportunity to add some extra life to the program running there. We are very enthusiastic about using this to generate more adaptive sailing programs throughout the Atlantic region."

To the competitors at Mobility Cup 2006, the event is a chance to race and socialize - and is one of the few sports open to most.

Mobility Cup 2006 sailor Rod Mack, who came in sixth in the Silver Fleet

Silver Fleet sailor Rod Mack, from Victoria, BC, said competitors were all confounding stereotypes about disability. Like most present, he became disabled in an accident - and like many, it happened while participating in sport. A 2003 skydiving accident left Mack in a six-week coma, with two broken femurs, a broken tibular, two broken hips and a head injury that paralyzed the left side of his body.

"After my injury I still had a fire inside me, because I love to compete," said Mack, 45. "But my life had come to a stop. I went sailing because I wanted to revive my life."

He started sailing July 2005, and is now talking about coaching, to put something back into the sport.

Competitor Chris Everson, of Orangeville, Sacramento, CA, said that he was particularly drawn to sailing because it allowed him to compete out of his wheelchair.

"I've been sailing on and off since I was five years old," he related. "I never thought I'd be doing things like this, when I got hurt, 30 years ago."

He suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident, driving to a high school football practice - after three months' rehabilitation he returned to school in a wheelchair and graduated in 1977.

"Being out on the water is an equalizer," continued Gold Fleet sailor Chris, 47. "When you are out there racing your boat, you forget you are disabled for a couple of hours. It's the only real escape I have."

Zoltan Pegan, founder of Sailability Hungary, finished fifth in the Mobility Cup Gold Fleet 2006.

Zoltan Pegan, 48, of Budapest, competed in the Mobility Cup 2006 in the hope of furthering the sailing options on offer back home in Hungary. He has been sailing adaptive boats since 1997, and believes that anyone with a disability should give the sport a try because of the sense of freedom it offers.

"Sailing is a way of getting out and enjoying the sunshine and water, which is not readily available to someone in a wheelchair," he explained. "It's an alternative way to get an adrenalin rush.

"There are no disabled sailing competitions in Budapest. Coming here I've learned a lot. It's very important to talk to people from other clubs and find out what's the best way to help ours grow."

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