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It was a perfect summer day on the water. Not too hot, no sign of rain, and a nice breeze. For a couple of months a year, this is where you’ll find Jackie three to four times a week, sailing on the lake at Fort Whyte Alive.
“I really enjoy it out on the lake,” said Jackie. “And I love nature and just being outside. And I love to sail.”
For years, Jackie was extremely active. She was a swimming instructor and a lifeguard for 23 years. She played tennis and ringette. She had a job she enjoyed, providing respite in a group home for intellectually challenged Manitobans.
Today, Jackie does none of those things. Twenty years ago, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She also lives with spinal stenosis and has osteoarthritis in both knees.
“It brought a lot of changes to my life, to both my personal life and at work,” she said. “It didn’t happen right away; it was gradual.”
Over the years, Jackie found it more and more challenging to do the sports and leisure activities she loved most. And getting up the stairs at her workplace was too difficult, so she had to leave her job.
But one thing she was still able to do was sail. Jackie has her CanSail certification and for most of her 20 years of sailing, she has done so independently. Over time, however, because of her mobility issues, she needed a little help.
“I can get into the boat, but I can’t get out,” she said.
One in five Canadians, ages 15 and over, has one or more disabilities.
– Canadian Survey on Disability, 2017
Jackie, front, goes sailing in a Martin 16 with an ILRC Sailing Companion in back
Kennedy has been a Sailing Companion since 2006.
Jackie gets the support she needs at Fort Whyte Alive. The centre is home to the Able Sail Program, one of the many programs offered by the Independent Living Resource Centre*, a United Way Winnipeg donor-supported agency partner.
Program staff provide instruction and accompany participants in one of four Martin 16 sailboats, specially designed to accommodate a wide range of challenges for people living with a disability.
Kennedy is a volunteer with Able Sail and has been a Sailing Companion with Mobility Cup since 2006. Mobility Cup is an international sailing regatta for Able Sailors with physical challenges. It’s held each autumn at a Canadian venue, which changes each year.
“While it might appear that most Sailing Companions are just there for the ride, we are actually quite busy,” Kennedy said. “We sit behind the sailor and act as coach, an extra pair of eyes, assist with safety, racing rules, and most aspects of the races, and must be able to take over if something happens to the boat.”
Though the Martin 16 is known for being untippable and unsinkable, occasionally circumstances arise, such as inclement weather, which requires a Sailing Companion to take over.
Most of the time, though, it’s smooth sailing on the water at Fort Whyte, and the Able Sail program gives participants something many of them don’t feel they have: control.
“They’ve got the freedom on the water to experience any way they desire,” said Able Sail’s Program Director Doug Lockhart. “Participants have control over the boat, which we don’t always have in a built environment.”
Doug said the program also makes it possible for all participants to feel included.
“There’s not one person who can’t say – even me? Even I can go sailing?” he said. “When you think about accessibility, often there are changes that can be made that don’t cost a lot of money and allows for the participation of all people.”
With the Able Sail program closing up shop until next spring, Jackie is exploring other ways to stay active during the winter months. She hopes more programs will be accessible to Manitobans like her living with mobility issues.
“Come out, have fun, and enjoy the spirit of the wind,” said Jackie. “Able Sail is accessible for everyone!”
*The ILRC is a consumer-controlled organization that promotes and supports citizens with disabilities to make choices and take responsibility for the development and management of personal and community resources.