Come Sail Away
By: Christy Mercer
Name: Maureen McKinnon-Tucker
It was a summer day in 1995 that Maureen's life changed forever. She was attending her husband's J/24 sailing regatta in Rockland, Maine--one that she was initially registered to participate in, but decided at the last minute to cancel. While watching the regatta, Maureen decided to walk her bicycle to a ferry, when she tripped and fell off of a 13-foot seawall to the ground below. She broke her lumbar one (L1), and was paralyzed.
What about sailing?
"They (the doctors) told me straight away that I had a permanent disability, and that I was paralyzed from the waist down," Maureen remembers. She was heartbroken to hear the news and the first things that crossed her mind where, How will I get back to my normal life? Will I be able to continue running my flower shop at home? What about sailing? Maureen wouldn't find out the answers to these questions until she went through therapy and got to return home to try to put her life back together. She says the sad feelings and unanswered questions were frustrating, but she tried to focus on staying positive, saying, "I knew what the doctors were saying, and was not happy about it, but also knew that there would be plenty of things that I could do while in a wheelchair."
It took two months of in-patient rehabilitation and nine months of out-patient pool therapy and physical therapy to get Maureen to the shape she's in now. "Part of that therapy was trying to see if I could use crutches to get around, but it turned out not to be so." Sailing has proved to be some of the best therapy for Maureen, as it requires her to work with muscles in her back and arms that she typically wouldn't utilize in everyday life.
Getting back into the race
Throughout her recovery, Maureen maintained a positive attitude toward her disability, but became a bit discouraged when she initially started sailing again. She tried going back to casually racing J/24 boats, but that proved to be too challenging, so she tried again, this time with Freedom 20s, but these boats were too tame for her competitive spirit. Finally, after giving up on sailing, and spending her days kayaking around the waters of her hometown of Marblehead, Massachusetts, she met her fate at a yacht club in 2001. That's where she became acquainted with Dr. Rick Doerr, a paralyzed man himself, who was racing Sonar sailboats and suggested that Maureen try it.
From then on, she was hooked. Maureen entered the competitive racing world, this time with renewed energy and enthusiasm, and competed in the 2004 US Paralympic sailing trials finishing 3rd with her teammates Rick Doerr and Tim Angle. After the trials, Maureen decided to continue competitive sailing and joined a team with Nick Scandone, a competitive sailor who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Geherig's disease) in 2002.
Off to the Paralympics
When Maureen and Nick decided to try out for the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, they won the trial and were appointed to the US sailing team. After facing tough competition in the games, Maureen and Nick took first place. For Maureen, this meant more than just winning, it meant she had achieved the goal she had set for herself of becoming the first woman on the US Paralympic sailing team, and the first woman to win gold in that event.
Today, Maureen coordinates a sailing program for children and adults with disabilities, which allows her to share her extraordinary story of overcoming odds with people who know first hand the obstacles she faced with her disability. "I think sailing is the perfect sport for people with disabilities, simply because we all have to do the sport sitting down, so that opens up a whole new world of opportunity for people with a great variety of mobility impairment."
She encourages people with disabilities to continue to set goals and work toward them throughout their treatment, recovery, and life. "Someone with a disability can still achieve 90% of all of the things that they had planned to achieve in their life, it's just that those of us with disabilities have to work harder, and it just takes a little longer."
Learn to sail
Maureen McKinnon-Tucker trains and teaches at the Piers Park Sailing Center where you can learn to sail too. The Center is a Reeve Foundation Quality of Life grantee. Learn more about our Quality of Life Program.
Tell us your story
The Adaptive Sports Center (ASC)A non-profit organization located in Colorado that provides year-round recreation activities for people with disabilities and their families.
Achilles Track Club Achilles is a worldwide organization, represented in sixty countries. Our mission is to enable people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics, promote personal achievement, enhance self esteem, and lower barriers.
American Association of AdaptedSportWorks to enhance the health, independence and self-sufficiency of youths with physical disabilities by facilitating adapted sports programs in local communities, in cooperation with schools, parks and recreation, YMCA/YWCAs, hospitals, parents and other groups.
Blaze Sports501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that advances the lives of youth and adults with physical disability through sport and healthy lifestyles. BlazeSports provides sports training, competitions, summer camps and other sports and recreational opportunities for youth and adults with spinal cord injury, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, muscular dystrophy, amputation, visual impairment or blindness as well as other physical disabilities.
Challenged AmericaThe Challenged America program is dedicated to introduce sailing as a therapeutic and rehabilitative enhancing activity to individuals with disabilities, their loved ones, and professionals in healthcare and rehabilitation.
Disabled Sports USAOffers nationwide sports rehabilitation programs to anyone with a permanent physical disability. Activities include winter skiing, water sports, summer and winter competitions, fitness and special sports events. DSUSA, as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, is the governing body for winter sports for all athletes with disabilities, and for summer sports for amputee athletes. Nationwide chapter network of sports and rec programs.
The Handicapped Scuba AssociationPromotes the physical and social well being of people with disabilities through the exhilarating sport of scuba diving.
Hand CyclingWhether for fitness, serious competition, or pure recreation, here's a sport that can be enjoyed by many and provide quite the "ride" at the same time.
International Paralympic CommitteeThe International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is the global governing body of the Paralympic Movement. The IPC organizes the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games, and serves as the International Federation for nine sports, for which it supervises and co-ordinates the World Championships and other competitions.
Life Rolls OnLRO is the story of able-bodied individuals, working in concert with those with spinal cord injury, to motivate each other with the inspirational message of achievement in the face of extreme adversity. Life Rolls On utilizes action sports through our flagship program, They Will Surf Again, which pushes the boundary of possibility for those with spinal cord injury (SCI).
National Wheelchair Basketball AssociationBasketball is perhaps the oldest organized sport for athletes in wheelchairs. The game is fast and fun, and played in dozens of cities across the U.S.
The National Center on AccessibilityNSCD provides recreation for children and adults with disabilities. In addition to recreational downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing, NSCD provides year-round competition training to ski racers with disabilities. Summer recreation opportunities include biking, hiking, in-line skating, sailing, therapeutic horseback riding, white water rafting, baseball, fishing, rock climbing for the blind, and camping.
Piers Park Sailing CenterA non-profit community sailing center that uses Boston Harbor and the seas beyond to provide year-round recreational, educational, and personal growth opportunities for people of all ages and abilities!
Quad RugbyFormerly known as murderball, Quad Rugby is a game for quads who can push a chair. Fast, rough and very competitive.
The United States Tennis AssociationTennis has been adapted for the wheelchair player: the ball can bounce two times. This allows chair-players to give standup players a run for the their money. The sport is growing fast and is very competitive at the elite level. Click on "community tennis."
U.S. ParalympicsA division of the U.S. Olympic Committee, it is dedicated to becoming the world leader in the Paralympic sports movement and promoting excellence in the lives of people with physical disabilities through education, sports programs and partnerships with community organizations, medical facilities and government agencies.
World T.E.A.M. SportsUnites people with and without disabilities through unique athletic events taking place all over the world.
Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.
Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.
Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.
Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.
This FREE 442 page book is a comprehensive information tool for individuals living with paralysis and for their caregivers. Request or download your copy now!
Check out programs in your area on our one-of-a kind online searchable Quality of Life program database. You can search by location or topic. GO