Mr Barry Myland - 07958 786 164 info@cowessailability.co.uk

In a truly inspiring interview for Cowes Sailability Club, a disabled sailor who won silver at the 2016 Paralympic Games encourages everyone with a disability to try sailing.

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Jackie Gay and her Canadian husband John McRoberts sailed to success in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio in a SKUD 18 (two-person keelboat), gaining a silver medal for Canada.  Jackie’s journey towards this incredible achievement began at Rutland Sailability Club in the UK, with the support of her father Brian Gay, who for many years has been a volunteer at Cowes Sailability Club.

Jackie is an amputee, having tragically lost her leg in an accident while visiting Africa over twenty years ago.  In an exclusive interview for Cowes Sailability Club, she explains why people with disabilities living on the Isle of Wight should put aside their anxieties and give sailing a go.

CSC:
What makes sailing and boating such a wonderful sport for people with disabilities?

Jackie:
Because once we leave the dock we leave our disabilities behind! It may be a hassle to get to this stage: finding a suitable boat, dealing with adaptations, finding help to launch and maintain boats, finding an accessible club or a coach or helper who has experience with disabled sailing, but once you have overcome all those things you get out onto the water and just be.  There is nothing more wonderful than seeing a row of crutches, wheelchairs and other disability aids left behind on the dock while all the ‘owners’ are out there sailing.

CSC:
In your experience, what can people with disabilities gain from getting involved with water-based activities?

Jackie:
Freedom. My husband, who is a quadriplegic (spinal cord injury at 19), says that when he first went back on the water after his injury he felt free for the first time. Free of his wheelchair, of people’s assumptions, of accessibility problems, of limitations. I never think about my disability once I am on the water: instead I think about the wind, the water, the boat. My head empties completely of everything else & I focus on this wave, this wind shift, the sails, the clouds.

CSC:
What inspired you to try sailing?

Jackie:
I have sailed since I was a small child with my Dad (Brian Gay), so he was and is my inspiration. I am lucky to have it in my blood. However I was anxious about going back sailing after my injury because I was worried that it would never be the same for me, that I would miss the freedom I used to have to jump on and off boats, to be physically able to do everything. So it was a slow process, encouraged again by Dad, but not pushed; he let me find my way back into the sport.

CSC:
What have been your most rewarding experiences on the water?

Jackie:
Sailing across the Channel in a small (20 ft) sailing cruiser when I was a teenager; holidays in the Channel Islands and Baltic Sea on Dad’s boats; sailing Tall Ships across the Bay of Biscay; racing for the first time in the Italian Lakes; going to Florida for the first time to race internationally (I was star struck and kept interrupting our training to take photos of the Olympic sailors I so admired… much to the frustration of my helm!); racing single-handed in a 100 boat fleet at the 2.4mR World Championships in Poole – so exciting; and, of course this last adventure in Rio with my husband John. We worked so hard over the 4 years of the campaign and dealt with so many challenges, but we promised each other that we would be our best selves for the Paralympics and we were! I injured myself in the week before the Games so was so relieved that I could actually sail and that we, as a team, still had our speed, that I relaxed for the actual event and we flew, all week. It was magic, tight racing right up to the very last mark when we slid past the Brits to hold onto our silver medal place. Dreams don’t come any better than that!

CSC:
Finally, what words of encouragement would you like to offer to disabled people on the Isle of Wight?

Jackie:
Do it, do it, do it! Whenever you get the opportunity go out there and try.  It’s challenging and difficult sometimes but the whole world of sailing, boating and adventure is right there for you, right outside your window. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, think hard about your needs and how you can assist your helpers by being prepared and organised. A good attitude costs nothing! Enjoy, spread the word and pass on what you know to others.  It’s the best kind of reward when you see someone who was unsure about sailing out there enjoying themselves & learning because of a little encouragement from you.

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