Urban Miyares of Challenged America
Very rarely do you get to meet a person as inspiring as Urban Miyares, the current president and co-founder of the adaptive sailing program Challenged America. The story of how, and why, he was inspired to join Challenged America back in the mid 1980s is quite astonishing, and for perspective, bears repeating as often as possible. In 1968 the then 20 year-old Army Sergeant Miyares’ platoon was engaged in a fire fight, when he slipped into a diabetic coma. Left for dead, Miyares was placed into a body bag where he spent 2 days until an alert medic detected a heartbeat. Miyares spent the next six months recovering in a military hospital, but the event left its mark. “I’m totally blind, I have diabetes, several organ transplants, and a whole number of medical issues.” Due to severe nerve damage in his lower extremities, Miyares is considered a walking paraplegic. Miyares doesn’t let any of it slow him down; he has solidly engaged life more than most able-bodied people!
Miyares sailed as a youth, and after his experience in Viet Nam, he never thought that he’d be able to actively sail again. In the late 80s he was invited aboard a Beneteau First Class 10 to race in the Oceanside Race, he remembers, “It was a windy day, we had some problems on the boat, and all of the sudden I started remembering things from years past.” He and his other crew members, who were also disabled vets, began thinking about developing an adaptive sailing program, and Challenged America was born! Through Challenged America, Miyares has reached thousands of disabled vets by getting them aboard sailboats. Challenged America has a small fleet of adaptive sailing boats at their facility in San Diego, and a testimonial from one of their clients says it all, “The phrase ‘leave your disabilities at the dock’ could not be more true! When I’m on the water, at the helm of a sailboat, and enjoying all the sights and sounds of San Diego Bay, I forget about the wheelchair sitting on the dock.”
Challenged America crew after finishing Transpac 2003
This year, Miyares and crew David Hopkins have entered the Transpac, and will race in the double-handed division aboard their Tripp 40 B’Quest. Miyares recalls, “We’ve taken her two times before on Transpac, 2003 and 2005, with a crew with disabilities. We’ve modified the boat quite a bit for the different disabilities; we’ve added quite a bit of weight, and this time we’re going to take the boat again.”
For their needs, a larger boat would be better, and according to Miyares, the Challenged America team has been trying to get a larger boat, “We’ve been close to getting the TP52 Rio, and have had everything from a Rhodes designed boat supposedly being donated to us, to a Santa Cruz 70, but things take time. Rather than waiting and waiting, we decided that with our resources we’d redo the Tripp 40. One reason that we’re looking for a larger boat is when we start adding elevators, like we had in our previous boat, the smaller boats can’t take the weight. We’re a good inch and a half lower in the water than the other Tripp 40 that we’re racing against.” If Challenged America can get something in time to make the necessary modifications, they’ll take it instead of the Tripp 40, but the window is narrow to make it into this years Transpac.
Preparations and modifications to make a boat easier to use in an adaptive sailing environment are very similar to what anyone would to customize their boat for a race. Miyares explains, “We’re modifying it for double handed sailing this time, so if for some reason we do get a short- handed crew, the remaining crew is still able to sail the boat. As far as the modifications, it’s going to be similar to one of the Vendee Globe type of boats; we’re going to have roller furling, and asym, etc, so that we can manage the sail plan easily. We have special cockpit seats that we’ll have installed, which we’ve used in the previous Transpacs. Other than that, we’ll add some electronics, like a talking GPS, and modify some of the running rigging to make it easier for the helms-person to use.”
Sailing the Transpac is challenging to even the most able-bodied sailor, a fact that inspires Miyares to push even harder, “Transpac is our Mount Everest! We always try to push the bar higher as far as what we can do safely and competitively.” Challenged America is looking for sponsors and financial support. They are a charitable program of the Disabled Businesspersons Association, which is a 501c3, and all donations are 100% tax deductible.
Written by Jeremy Leonard
Original article on the Transpac website