Plotting a New Course: Life after the Paralympic Games

Published on October 26th, 2016

Olympic gold medalist Magnus Liljedahl launched Team Paradise in 2005, a sailing organization in Miami that gives the disabled community an opportunity to learn and excel at sailing. With Paralympic Sailing not included as an event at the Tokyo 2020 Games, Magnus shares his vision of the future…

How about an Olympic Class boat where physically disabled teams could compete against any team, disabled or not? As many of us know, Adaptive Sailing (or Para Sailing) will not be included in the 2020 Paralympic Games and our sport may not return to the Games anytime soon. For so many disabled sailors, the driving motivation to compete will be no more, at least not for now. Unless we can do something about it.

What if we take this opportunity to establish change and new horizons for sailors around the world? Why limit disabled sailors to team up only with other disabled sailors? What if we can break down these barriers instead of creating them?

It’s often times challenging to find a crew. Imagine if your search was limited to someone with a physical disability. Most of my knowledge about sailboat racing has come from others I have sailed with, so what good does it do to limit the disabled sailor’s crew selection? What if we could assemble a boat that could be used as Olympic equipment and be operated by any age group and any gender, whether disabled or not?

Imagine a 3 to 4 person boat where the helmsman is seated mid-ship. It wouldn’t matter if the person is a quadriplegic or not, because all that he/she would do is steer the boat. The seat would have a tall back and headrest and would serve two purposes: to act as support for the disabled sailor; and to limit vision to 180 degrees.

The crew could have physical disabilities, or not. Each position could have some form of adaption like a transfer bench or crossbar to aid lateral movement. If equipped with a trapeze, the fun factor would be greatly enhanced and the need for conventional hiking eliminated!

The boat should be strictly one-design with a modern sail plan and a weighted centerboard for increased stability. The full-batten mainsail and a roller-furling jib would keep wear and tear on sails to a minimum. Add a decent-size gennaker with an internal bowsprit launching system, and this boat would not only be easy to handle, it would be a blast off the wind!

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17-foot RS Venture

This vessel would have a far greater reach beyond elite Olympians/Paralympians. In fact, it is perfect for any gender, any age and would be a great addition to sailing schools and community sailing programs. For those who need training and preparation before stepping up to a Melges 20, J/70 or similar, this boat would be the pathway.

The answer to these questions may just be the 17-foot RS Venture. Built in the UK, the boat is available in three versions: a drop-down keel; a centerboard; or a weighted centerboard. Team Paradise Sailing in Miami is pleased to announce that we now have a fleet three RS Ventures!

We decided on the weighted centerboard version because it’s more stable and the centerboard is better suited for the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay. With the addition of the new and more modern boats and equipment, Team Paradise is now able to offer new and exciting programming for non-competitive sailing.
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Initiative 1: Extreme Adaptive Sailing
Why limit anyone with a disability to racing only with other disabled sailors as is the case with Paralympic Adaptive Sailing? Instead, why not offer the opportunity for the physically disabled to steer a 17-foot dinghy with main, jib and gennaker, blasting across the waves on a full plane in a strong breeze?

The crew could be adaptive sailors, or just anybody–disabled or not. It doesn’t matter. The main objective is to make it possible for an adaptive sailor to steer the boat. Additionally, we take safety to a new level with our well-experienced coaching staff and state-of-the-art equipment.

Initiative 2: Non-competitive Youth Sailing
There are a variety of successful youth sailing programs around Biscayne Bay, but they are mostly focused on racing. Yet there are many kids who would love to go sailing if they could go on the same boat as their friends. They don’t necessarily care about racing, they just want to have fun!

The RS Venture with the weighted centerboard is perfect for this because it’s modern, exciting and safe. By easily removing adaptive seating and other adaptive aids (which simply snap in and out of the boat), the RS Venture will accommodate up to 8 kids!
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Accomplishing these initiatives will surely increase opportunities, open doors and enhance the sailing experience for everyone. In my opinion, establishing a more contemporary sailing program with a focus on these initiatives will naturally foster renewed interest in competitive sailing. Let’s work together to keep sailing in the Olympics forever!

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