Freedom, independence, and fun are 3 words rarely heard in conjunction with life with disability. I have been a quadriplegic for the past 8 years due to the effects of living with ALS and, while people with disabilities are no longer hidden away in shame by their families, nearly every time I am out in public I see someone’s face cloud over in pity. I can almost hear their thoughts of “That poor man”, as if my life were somehow lessened. Less opportunity, less freedom, less fun, they think.

I have loved sailing ever since my early teen years in Sheboygan when my father started teaching me to sail, infecting me with his enthusiasm for the sport. There is such beauty and harmony in sailing, working with the other crew, the boat, wind and sea. And there’s the majesty of the sea, beautiful, mysterious, ever changing, always inviting with a hint of adventure. The seas have no boundaries or limitations. 

Thanks to the people at SEAS and their commitment to making sailing available and accessible to anyone, I, with all my disabilities, can get hoisted into a sailboat and put into a special chair and go for a sail. Not just a passenger, we have developed a series of technical capabilities such that I can steer and trim the sails completely independently.

There are no words for what this means to me. Joyful, life-giving, food for the soul, strengthening. These words are certainly present, but they are wholly inadequate. Feeling the wind, hearing the water rush by the hull, and seeing the borderless, boundary-free horizon as my empty wheelchair on the pier fades from relevance is an experience of the transcendent. 

Although I am deeply grateful to the compassionate and supremely gifted people of SEAS for what they have done for me, what gives me greater joy is seeing how the adaptive program has spread out from its origins in blind sailing to other kinds of disabilities and opportunities, culminating with hosting the 2018 Para World Sailing Championships in September. SEAS put on a highly successful regatta for 100 sailors from around the world, showcasing their professionalism alongside the beauty of Lake Michigan and the hospitality of Sheboygan.

I invite you to be a part of growing this highly impactful program. As you are able, please volunteer and give in order that SEAS can continue to grow and provide people with an extremely wide range of disabilities the opportunity to learn to sail. 

Not just to sail, but an opportunity to crush boundaries, to erase limitations, to feel free and to have fun.

In gratitude,

Steve Heronemus

See Steve first sail with us here