“Wow, wow, wow!!!! FREEDOM!!! What a terrific day. I’ve been imprisoned inside my body for years, and I never thought it possible to experience such a feeling of freedom…” says Ginette Beaudreault, who took part in a sailing excursion organized last summer at the Pointe Claire Yacht Club.
Freedom was the word of the day for the six members of the ALS Society of Quebec who learned to sail. Paula Stone, who volunteers with the Society and the Association québécoise de voile adaptée (AQVA), organized the outing to the yacht club.
“Most people with mobility challenges are surprised to discover they can learn to sail,” says Ms. Stone. “At first, they have concerns: they worry about the boat capsizing and they can’t imagine how they will get in and out of the boat. But once you explain everything, you see their eyes light up as they realize they can do it.”
“It was my first time sailing. Initially, I hesitated about going, primarily because walking on a dock scares me, let alone rolling on one. Secondly, I thought being out in the sun all day would be exhausting. But with the Society hosting the activity, it gave me the confidence to try it,” says Ms. Beaudreault, who has been living with ALS for 14 years.
“Sailing is one of the few sports people with ALS or other physical challenges can take part in”, explains Ms. Stone. The AQVA has a fleet of five Martin 16 sail boats designed for those with limited mobility. The Martin 16 is nimble and fun in a breeze, and with a 330 lb. keel, it’s impossible to sink. The participant sits low in the boat with a central “joystick” style tiller to steer and control the sails. The boat can be further adapted for those who have limited or no use of their arms. Using a sophisticated straw system called the “sip ‘n puff”, the sailor uses his or her breath instead of controlling the helm and sails with their hands. By just inhaling or exhaling gently into the straw, the rudder will move left or right and the sails can be let out or drawn in. This allows even those with extremely limited mobility to independently sail the boat.
“I absolutely adored being at the helm. I highly recommend this activity for anyone with mobility challenges,” says Ms. Beaudreault.
“As a volunteer with the ALS Society for the last few years, and with the AQVA for 17 years, my reward is when I see the smiles on people’s faces when they get back. After all these years, I still get tears in my eyes when I see how happy they are,” says Ms. Stone.