Sailing With Challenged America at the V.A. National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic

Five years in a row, Challenged America hosted the sailing activity for  the National Veterans’ Affairs Summer Sports Clinic  – changing the lives of our nation’s wounded veterans.

In 2012, over 100 men and women  veterans came from all over the country to San Diego to participate in the 2011 event

“The goal of the National Summer Sports Clinic is to heal the whole person – body, spirit and mind through these adaptive programs – that’s what you get here. That’s the true mission of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs,” said Richard Olague, Public Affairs Coordinator.

Urban Miyares, co-founder of Challenged America on Shelter Island, was instrumental in bringing the event to San Diego. His non-profit, all-volunteer organization has been recognized as a pioneer in the field of free adaptive sailing opportunities to kids and adults with disabilities.

“I had been part of the VA Winter Sports Clinic which is in Colorado each year. In the early 1990’s I said, ‘Why don’t you do a summer sports clinic? After all, we have sailing with Challenged America,’” said Miyares.

He worked with VA national coordinator Sandy Trombetta to make the dream come true in 2008. The first event had 50 participants. This year, 67 signed up.

“People don’t realize the value of sailing. It’s more than a recreational sport. For vets who have come back from the traumas of war, with Post Traumatic Stress, there’s nothing like sailing. When you’re in a sailboat, you forget about everything else,” Miyares said.

Kevin Miller was poisoned while in Afghanistan which left him with nerve damage in 75 percent of his body. He suffers short-term and long-term memory loss. But the inspiration he gets from the games is beyond words.

“There’s people out here with no legs, no arms and prosthetics. If they can do it, anybody can,” Miller said.

Over 40 Challenged America volunteers help out for the week. Ken Guyer, Marina Manager at the San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina, also a Vietnam Vet, hosts the sailing venue.

“You can’t describe watching these people as they go through these evolutions,” said Guyer. “They’re a little nervous at first, then they go out, and the smile you see when they come back, it’s very much worth it. As a vet myself, this is just absolutely unreal.”

“We’re excited to find out that the summer clinic is going to be here for at least the next five years. So that’s a great boost for San Diego,” Miyares said.

Participation in the clinic is open to military veterans who are eligible for VA medical care and who have orthopedic amputations, traumatic brain injuries, burn injuries, psychological trauma, certain neurological conditions, visual impairment, spinal cord injuries and other injuries incurred in the last six years. Contact your local VA office for information on signing up for next year’s events.

Forty Challenged America volunteers donated their time to this five day event. 67 veterans from around the country came to participate. Here are some experiences from each of them:

“It was so great to sail with these veterans. They all had such great attitudes towards life and the opportunities it holds! Grave as some of their disabilities were (totally blind, missing legs, etc.), they all seemed to view their conditions as minor inconveniences that simply had to be dealt with as the enjoyed this big, beautiful world we live in. Being able to control the sailboat totally on their own, with me just along to give bits of advice where needed, was something that they all so enjoyed … their enthusiasm was contagious and I found myself smiling just as broadly as they were as we rounded each buoy on our way to the finish line. I know the sports clinic is organized for their benefit, not mine, but I’m selfishly hoping that its held in San Diego again next year so that I can participate! Many thanks to Kelli, Carolyn, Urban, and all the other people at Challenged America and the Department of Veterans Affairs who worked so hard to create this opportunity for our distinguished service men and women. Looking forward to next year.”
-John B., Challenged America Volunteer

“It was wonderful meeting people from all over the United States who want to experience life regardless of their physical trappings. The energy was amazing and encouraged my own desire to do the same in spite of being visually impaired. And witnessing the other volunteers giving of themselves was AWESOME!”
-Tammy A., Challenged America Volunteer

“Sailing the boat was the biggest surprise of my week! I have ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). I seriously thought I would just go for a ride and maybe hold a line in my weak hands, while someone else controlled the boat. Running the joystick put me on a level field with my team and I forgot about my physical problems. I was simply sailing and having the time of my life! Thank you for the gift of your time, spirit and resources. I will be dreaming of that day from here in NH. See you soon, my friends.”
-Ellen, Veteran Participant

“I remember one 29 year old army veteran who had done two tours in Iraq and was 100% disabled with post traumatic stress. His typical day consisted of watching TV, playing video games and sleeping. He likes the VA sports clinics because this gets him out. He particularly liked the sailing because it was peaceful and beautiful in the harbor. Once the race started, he liked the new mobility and the fact that he had control.”
-Stan B., Challenged America Volunteer

“It was, again, an extraordinary experience and one that I look forward to each year. Hopefully we can come down next year.”
-Jim T., Challenged America Volunteer

Challenged America’s volunteers are the best, matched only by the generosity of the boating community in general.

  • Hipp Marine not only provided the chase boat each and every day for medical and photography personnel, but they shuttled all of our volunteers every day to and from the event.
  • Challenged America member Loch Crane donated the use of his Harbor 20 “Baby Ruth.”
  • Bill Fallon of Southwestern Yacht Club not only donated the use of another Harbor 20 “Todo Azul” and provided his Boston Whaler 24 “Macanudo” for use each day as the committee boat, AND, he set the mark each day, pulled it up again at the end of every day, and drove around the course so that Carolyn could keep track of all the boats as the veterans raced around the course.
  • Challenged America member Kevin Wixom provided his “Blue Note” as spectator boat for two days.
  • The spectators for Monday, Wednesday and Friday were hosted by Bob Ehlers of San Diego Yacht Club aboard his yacht “JB ‘N Me”,
  • Jim Lonergan of Southwestern Yacht Club aboard his “Casa del Perro III”
  • Bob Baker of Southwestern Yacht Club and long time supporter of Challenged America aboard his yacht “Talisman.”

The 2012 Summer Sports Clinic will take place in San Diego Sept 16 to Sept 21, stay tuned for details.

To register and participate, go to :  http://www.va.gov/opa/speceven/ssc/index.asp

4 thoughts on “Sailing With Challenged America at the V.A. National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic

  1. I am a partially sighted veteran, and would very much like to particepait in the 2011 Summer Sports Clinic. I have been to Colorado’s Winter Sports Clinic twice and it is a blast, I ran boats in the Navy and would love to learn how to sail. Thank You

  2. Any information for people who want to volunteer to assist at the upcoming 2013 VA Summer Sports Clinic? We would like, once again, to help if you need us.

    Thank you,

    Jim and Cynthia Treydte

    • Hello Cynthia, Thank you for your offer to volunteer, unfortunately we are not involved with the 2013 National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic. Philippe

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