Getting Disabled Veterans on the Water

Published on July 20th, 2016

Newport, RI (July 20, 2016) – There was a time when Roland Filion thought he’d never be on the water again. He broke his neck in 1974 when he jumped into shallow water at Burlingame State Park and Campground in Charlestown and was left paralyzed and wheelchair bound.

This week, Filion, 63, piloted a 20-foot Independence sailboat through Newport Harbor with instructor Fraser MacKechnie, 19, tending the lines, making sure the mainsail and the jib were right.

The harbor excursion was part of a program offered by Sail to Prevail, a nonprofit organization based in Newport, RI. Filion, who lives in Lincoln, said the experience was like a dream come true, providing him a sense of freedom and independence.

“I used to go sailing and swimming all the time, but I kind of gave up on it,” said Filion, who served in the Navy from 1970-74, and left as a seaman.

“Now, I’m cycling, sailing, doing all sorts of things. Sailing is the best. Yesterday, I was playing golf. I was hitting them straight. That surprised me. Not far, but straight, so I’m getting there.”

He doesn’t think about the swimming accident much anymore, he said, but he lives with the consequences every day. Still, no matter how bleak things might look, there is always hope, he said.

“For anyone who’s had an accident like mine, I’d tell them to get involved in a program like this and not to give up,” Filion said. “Life is good and it’s all of what you make it.”

Heather L. Oberg of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said the Sail to Prevail program was one of several offered this week to close to 50 military veterans with disabilities from across New England. – The Newport Daily News, full story

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