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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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Reeve Foundation Board Member Rediscovers Her 'Sea Legs'

By Nate Herpich

When Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation board member Pat Volland was injured in a serious accident five years ago, one of her fears was that she would never be able to sail again. Pat and her husband Bob had long raced a 40-foot yacht out of Annapolis, Maryland; in fact they had spent much of their lives together on the open sea. But due to the nature of her injuries, it was far from certain that she'd ever captain a boat once more.

Vollands sailing with Challenged America

Then, last November, on a trip out to San Diego, the Vollands became acquainted with Reeve Foundation Quality of Life past grantee Challenged America, a unique organization that has offered adaptive and therapeutic sailing since 1978. Learning that she could actually sail again, and not merely ride as a passenger, Pat got into a boat for the first time since her accident.

"What an incredible feeling to be out on the water again, and in control," she says.

Pat's maiden voyage was with Challenged America volunteer Doug Shaw (each boat requires that a person with disability sail with one of the organization's volunteers, for safety reasons.) Her particular boat was equipped with a Power Assist unit and joystick controller that allowed Pat to steer and also trim the sails. "It was such a confidence booster to be in charge," she says.

Remarkably, during this inaugural return to the water, the shroud on Pat's boat broke, bringing the ship's mast crashing down, and leaving Pat and Doug to drift in San Diego Bay. Fortunately, both Pat and Doug were experienced sailors, and didn't panic. While Doug cleared lines and kept the fallen mast and sails from causing any further damage or injury, Pat calmly operated the controller as he directed.

"Doug thanked me for being so calm," remembers Pat, "but what else was I gonna do? I knew the boat wouldn't sink." Slowly the boat drifted downwind toward a nearby Coast Guard cutter, docked at the local Coast Guard Station. After a line was passed to the Coast Guardsmen and women, they carefully pulled the boat to a safe spot along the pier, where Pat and Doug awaited a tow back to the slip from a Challenged America safety boat.

Despite the freak mishap, Pat's resolve to sail has only grown exponentially. Just this past March she went out on a second trip in San Diego; this time, without incident. "We had so much fun, and I would do it all over again," she says. "This is an incredible organization."

Vollands sailing with Challenged America

Challenged America is the brainchild of Urban Miyares, a Vietnam War veteran who is blind and living with spinal cord injury. The program was started by "myself and two disabled vets in wheelchairs," he explains, and grew from one 20-foot sailboat to a 27 footer and then a 34 foot boat and 25-30 sailors per year in the late 70s, to where they are today, with a fleet of small and large boats, and anywhere between 500-1200 sailors annually, depending on the year. "I continued Challenged America out of a love for the sea," he says, "and the therapeutic benefits to being out on the water."

The benefits are many: Urban says that they have documented relief of chronic pain (in others as well as his own case), better hand-eye coordination, and an improved psychological outlook. "For many of our sailors, this is a new opportunity to be active in the community again," he says. "It is a life-changing experience even for those who don't come back."

Often, Urban goes out into San Diego Bay with 92-year-old sailor Loch Crane, who is living with Alzheimer's disease. "Loch's care providers have indicated there has been almost no progressive degeneration in Loch's memory since he started sailing, and he's moving like he was ten years ago. It's remarkable: I'm blind, he has a serious neurological condition, but we go out sailing together, and we always make it back in."

In 2005, the Reeve Foundation awarded an $8,000 grant to Challenged America to acquire a second "power assist system with sip and puff module" so those living with limited mobility and on a ventilator could also sail. Today, several boats in Challenged America's fleet are outfitted with this and other adaptive technologies.

Vollands sailing with Challenged America

"We're always looking to come up with new innovations to make our boats as accessible as possible for the most people living with disabilities," he says. "Whether they may be living with multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, we need boats that work for everyone." Another innovation developed by Challenged America is specialized soft seating ("we found that hard seating and individual's cushions don't work, especially in larger vessels," says Urban).

While it is certainly unique in terms of its scope and success, Challenged America is not the only adaptive sailing program at work in the United States. In fact, the Reeve Foundation has awarded 10 grants totaling more than $75,000 for sailing programs since its inception, including awards to Shake-A-Leg Miami in Coconut Grove, Florida, North Carolina Community Sailing and Rowing, and the Y-Knot Sailing Association of the Capital District YMCA in Kattskill Bay.

"These sailing programs represent the true spirit of our Quality of Life Grants Program, which is to create opportunities for those living with paralysis to make the most out of life, and to do so in enjoyable, innovative ways," says Niketa Sheth, Senior Vice President of Quality of Life at the Reeve Foundation. "We're proud to have sponsored each of them."

The Vollands say they plan to sail again before too long, perhaps on a future trip to Florida. For those who plan to be in the San Diego area "I would recommend the Challenged America program to anybody," says Pat. "They have programs for all levels, and some great instructors.

"It is truly a wonderful place to get your sea legs."

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 Horticultural Therapy AssociationHorticultural therapy (HT) is not only an emerging profession, it is a time-proven practice. The therapeutic benefits of peaceful garden environments have been understood since ancient times. In the 19th century, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and considered to be the "Father of American Psychiatry," reported that garden settings held curative effects for people with mental illness.

Dowling Community Garden: Building Accessible Raised-Bed GardensFunding for the wheelchair accessible beds was provided by the Longfellow Community Council Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP). NRP funds paid for the materials and all labor was provided by Dowling gardeners. If you are a wheelchair gardener or know a wheelchair gardener who would be interested in gardening at Dowling, please call the Dowling Community Garden voice mail at (651) 255-6607.

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Gardening for People with Disabilities (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Golf for People with Disabilities (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Hunting for People with Disabilities (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Sailing for People with Disabilities (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Mindfullness (PDF)

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.

eHow: How to Make a Wheelchair/Scooter Accessible Raised Garden BedHow to build an accessible raised bed garden from inexpensive, easily obtained materials. This is a thoughtful, enriching and enabling gift for the elderly, disabled and arthritic individuals.

E Nasco: CelluGro™ Wheelchair Accessible Green Thumb Therapy GardenDesigned by a horticultural therapist, this makes it possible for anyone who may not be able to do traditional gardening to be active gardeners.

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.

Flaghouse: Gardening ProductsTo enhance the quality of life for all people, with resources for physical activity, recreation, therapy, and the development and support of life skills.

Friends Hospital: Adaptive Gardening to Meet Your Changing NeedsGardening is one of our most popular national pastimes. Horticulture can be enjoyed by almost everyone, whether young or old, weak or strong, able-bodied or handicapped. Gardening can be a vigorous activity or a sedentary one. As you grow older or your physical abilities change, there is no need for you to stop gardening. Gardens and tools may be modified to help ease stress and strain and allow you to continue to participate in one of the best leisure activities.

Gardener's Supply Co.Disability Opens New Doors for a Lifelong Gardener .

Infinitec: Enabling Gardens This section demonstrates accessible ways to garden, but please consult general gardening resources for help with soil preparation, planting, fertilizing, mulching, pruning, etc.

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."

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.

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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 Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

The information provided in the Paralysis Resource Center was supported by Cooperative Agreement number 1U59DD000838-01 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the Reeve Foundation and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC.