For many, the sport of sailing is about getting out there and seeing what the world’s waters have to offer. But that wasn’t exactly the case this weekend in Sheboygan.
This weekend, Sheboygan played host to a world championship sailing competition but not one competitor saw the finish line. That’s because the athletes, are all blind.
“I lost my eyesight in accident. A soldering iron exploded, and sent shrapnel into my eyes and the rest of my body,” said David Brown, a competitor from Canada.
Brown went through the stages of grief when he lost his sight. First anger, then denial. But now he and his blind competitors can see one thing.
“You’ve got to make life. You’ve got to go to life. Life doesn’t come to you. You’ve just got to get out there and keep living it. It doesn’t matter whether our eyes don’t work too well or not. Just keep on doing what you’re doing,” said competitor Ryan Honschooten from Australia.
The sailors race around a course with buoys emitting sound so the competitors know where to go. Sailing, even for those with sight, is based largely on feeling the wind in the sails making it a great sport for the blind. But learning the intricacies of sailing is not easy.
“When you’re trying to teach the blind to do anything, you want to paint a verbal picture. A picture is worth a thousand words, but we need the 1000 words, not the picture,” said Brown.Sheboygan’s own BJ Blahnik lost his sight gradually and is picking up the sport bit by bit. Each step requires patience, but it comes with an amazing reward.
“The first time I went sailing with my instructor, he was quiet and it was just me sailing, the wind and the waves, it was so freeing because I hadn’t had control like that of something since I stopped driving over 12 years ago,” Blahnik said.
Football, basketball, baseball, soccer are all off limits for the most enterprising blind athletes on earth. But sailing is a great outlet for their competitive juices.
“I’ve found a sport that I can excel in. I was never really able to do competition. I’ve stumbled into a sport that lets me go far, that lets me drive something, and also lets me be on an equal playing feeling with everybody else. It’s just amazing,” said competitor Kylie Forth from Australia.
“I challenge any blind person, young or old, come down to Sheboygan, come out sailing for a day, and it will change your life and your perspective,” Blahnik said.