Delivering miracles for people with disabilities

Published on July 12th, 2021

Patrick Feighan of Middletown, Rhode Island has been through a lot in his 36 years. Wheelchair-bound and nonverbal, he was born with multiple disabilities, including Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, seizure disorder, and autism.

Recently, he was confined to a hospital following a surgery that unfortunately coincided with the COVID-19 outbreak. He couldn’t leave the hospital — or see his mother, Cynthia — for five months.

During the course of Patrick’s life, he’s been involved in lots of different sports and activities, including the Special Olympics. He can’t play many coordinated team games, but according to Cynthia, he’s a great spectator. There is one sport, however, that truly lifts Patrick’s spirits.

“When he’s sailing, he’s a whole different person,” Cynthia says. “It’s like a miracle. As soon as the boat gets underway and he hears the sounds and feels the movement of the boat on the water, something changes in him.”

Patrick’s been sailing for half his life. With the exception of last year, he’s faithfully committed to boating as a member of Sail to Prevail, a national disabled sailing program. When it was established in 1982, Sail to Prevail became the first program of its kind for people with disabilities in the United States.

“Patrick is a great kid,” says Paul Callahan, Sail to Prevail’s chief executive officer. “He has been one of our most dedicated participants and it’s been a joy to have him with us.”

Callahan is a quadriplegic himself. A tragic slip-and-fall accident in college left him wheelchair-bound. Following the accident, he managed to persevere. He graduated from both Harvard undergrad and Harvard Business School, and subsequently embarked on a successful career at Goldman Sachs.

Callahan is also a sailor. He began his own love affair with the sport back in 1996, while on vacation in Newport. “I’ll always remember that first day of sailing,” he says. “I was able to get out of my chair and leave my worries on the dock. I felt an extraordinary sense of independence.”

Now a Newport resident, Callahan went on to parlay that sense of independence into a full-on, purpose-driven sailing career, one that includes being a two-time USA Sailing Paralympian.

“My sailing career has been as much about the journey as it has been about the goal of getting to the Paralympics,” he says. “But my greatest takeaway, what I was able to come away with from the Paralympic campaign, was that when I finished I had so much to share with other people with disabilities.” – Full story

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