When I was first introduced to Papercourt Sailability in Ripley, I was very quickly allowed to go out in a boat completely on my own! At 13 years old and having grown up always with a helper or carer nearby, I grabbed the opportunity and sailed away from the jetty under my own steam waving goodbye to my helpers and my wheelchair for the first time. I discovered such freedom that I had never known before and from that moment I was hooked! Within a year I had my first sailing qualification (RYA Level 1+2), and had attended my first National championships. I started competing regularly in club racing in Access 303’s, 2.3’s and then a Liberty. I still do this as much as possible.
Sailing the Challenger
One year later, the RYA Sailability Coach, George Barker suggested to me that I might like to try a Challenger – a 15ft Trimaran which is fast but fairly stable. Although with only the full use of one limb – my left arm, I have had to find different ways of adapting to do the steering, as well as fiddle with the ropes. I began training in these boats at Queen Mary Reservoir in Ashford, and was soon entered into the Challenger World Championships taking place in July 2008 in Portugal. This was my first open sea sailing experience which was fantastic and I achieved an overall position of 18th out of 28, learning more and improving every day, eventually securing a 4th position in the last race.
Realising the dream
Although I had always had the 2012 Paralympics in mind, I had always thought it would be a bit beyond my reach. However, following my success in Portugal, I realised that this dream could turn into a reality. This was boosted by some very promising results, which included winning the Silver fleet twice (resulting in promotion to the Gold challenger fleet), winning the David Prentice trophy (given to the sailor showing promise, as selected by the other sailors), and the Best newcomer trophy – the Silver Piccolo. I was also 3rd placed Challenger at the Ogston Handicap Open in October.
Subsequently, I was awarded the RYA Thames Valley Regional Young Sailor of the Year 2008. I was also entered as one of 4 finalists to the National Young Sailor of the Year 2008 and invited to be presented with my award at the 2009 London Boat show at Excel. I felt very humble to have been among some of the best young sailors in the country!!