Paralympic fever in San Francisco as high profile figures support World Sailing’s #BacktheBid
by World Sailing 2 April 01:28 UTC
Ryan Porteous with SailGP USA in San Francisco © Tom Roberts
Inspirational stories of athletic ability, perseverance and skill were the order of the day at the St Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco on March 25, 2022, when World Sailing brought together three USA Para Sailors for an exclusive meet and greet with national media and internationals during the Mubadala United States Sail Grand Prix Grand Final | San Francisco. As part of its global campaign to re-enter sailing at the Paralympic Games for LA28, the athletes were joined by representatives from US Sailing and World Sailing to further explain the re-entry process as the international federation prepares its response to the ” questionnaire” to the International Paralympic Committee.
Marcus Spillane, World Sailing representative and member of the Para World Sailing committee, was very direct about the orientation of the federation. “Let me be very clear: re-entering sailing into the Paralympic Games is one of World Sailing’s primary goals. We are committed to continuing to drive the growth and development of this aspect of our sport, and that is a cornerstone of our strategy, but it’s important to remember that parasailing isn’t just about the Paralympic Games, although that’s why we’re here today, it’s about developing the sport of parasailing as a whole.”
Para Sailing as a driving force after injury
Ryan Porteous of San Diego shared his journey to the Paralympic Games in Rio where he finished 5th in the SKUD-18 category. A competitive sailor at the Mission Bay Yacht Club from a young age until his teenage years, in a freak accident at age 18, Ryan slipped on a dock and broke his neck. He picked up the story about how he ended up in a boat.
“I was 18 and fresh out of college and I went from having the most independence I’ve ever had to needing help with the simplest of tasks. I spent three months in the hospital after my injury and it was really tough, and I was asking a lot of questions about what the rest of my life was going to be like after being paralyzed and one of the things that was a bright light, it It was the possibility of the sport, especially sailing, getting me out of my wheelchair and going to do something that, most importantly, allowed me to have fun again.
“While I was still in hospital after my injury, I was researching the Paralympic Games. I watched the Paralympic Games, I had heard about it before, but never really thought about it. I saw there was sailing and I was like, ‘woah – that looks awesome. I want to do that!’. So I would call some friends and say “hey, get me back on the boat, just throw me on it and let’s get back sailing”. It was a really cool experience of having friends there to get me back on the water. And then from there, I contacted the USA sailing team and asked them, “How can I make this happen? How can I be part of the USA team? How can- I try to go to the Paralympics?'”
Ryan explained the impact the withdrawal of sailing from the Paralympic Games had on the wider sailing community. “It’s quite devastating, not only because it’s the pinnacle of the sport and it really generated a lot of the funding, but also it helped attract more people to the sport. I had just come from going into Para Sailing and I was seeing all these new people and new faces at the regattas and it was so exciting to see it all build up and then take it all off, just like that the momentum was lost and it was quite devastating.
Find freedom on the water
Sailing is one of the most suitable sports for people with disabilities. Cristina Rubke, European Hansa Servo Champion and US National Sailing Champion in the RS Venture explained. “The sail is really unique and you can adapt it to someone who has a very significant disability. I can’t use my arms at all, so I use my chin to do everything. I sail my Hansa Liberty with a joystick that’s strapped under my chin and has two switches that connect to the sails – right and left for rudder control and up/down for retracting and extending the sails, and the two switches control the mainsail and jib.
Cristina doesn’t just sail alone. “When I sail as a team, I have almost exclusively sailed with a sailor from Florida called Kris Shepp who is a blind sailor, very physical and very fit. He and I are a great team because he can do all the things physically with his arms and legs that I can’t, but I can see everything and I can tell him what’s going on.”
For Cristina, it’s not just the missed funding for sailing that isn’t at the Paralympics that’s important to her. “It is also important from a general point of view to have a wider audience for adapted sports and to make it clear that people with disabilities can compete at the highest level. And that there are sports like sailing, and sailing more than many other adapted sports, which are very inclusive and diverse.”
From runways to sailing – the most inclusive Paralympic sport
At 17, Jim Thweatt was hit by a car while riding a motorcycle and lost his leg below the knee and fractured his femur. The first para sport he raced in was skiing, but after retirement he turned to sailing and combined his passion for both sports as a classifier – someone who determines who is eligible to compete. in a para sport and groups eligible athletes into sport classes. according to their activity limitation.
“Of all the Paralympic sports I’ve been in, sailing is probably the most inclusive and I’ve been around a lot of them at Olympic and Paralympic level. The reality is you can take someone like Cristina, or someone like me, and put them in a classification protocol where 1 is classified as the most severely disabled to 7, which is the most physically able.
“And then you take the boat, the rig, and you try to even the teams in this sport and in this sport. So you can have 14 points on a boat, you can’t have two 7s because that’s a team of three, so you end up having to mix up your team. No two Sonar Paralympic teams are the same, so it’s a very inclusive sport.
“The boat doesn’t care: it doesn’t care if you have one arm, two arms, one leg, it doesn’t care,” he concluded.
Alan Ostfield, Managing Director of US Sailing, explained the role of the national governing body. “Our role at US Sailing is to promote sailing in all its forms, and we hear stories of inclusivity, accomplishment, overcoming barriers, teamwork, and gender equality. C is at the heart of what national governing bodies are there to support.”
“You need revenue to be able to do these wonderful things and when the sport leaves the program you lose that measure of funding. So that’s a hurdle that we have to overcome. The second thing is you lose the platform to generate extra revenue and extra revenue is not only important for elite athletes, but also for promoting the sport across the country, which is a valuable piece of the puzzle in promoting sailing in all its forms and then bringing the next generation of these great athletes on the water.”
Andrew Clouston, senior vice president of programs and services at US Sailing, which has responsibility for adaptive sailing, said: “Taking away the flagship event that is so inspiring to people has impacted our ability to attract more people in the sport, as well as keeping those already engaged and competing at all levels. We have 80 organizations offering specific programs for Paramarines across the United States and we want to be able to build more of that base. And having para-sailing included in the Paralympic Games is a really essential part of that picture.”
Parasailing competed in five successive Games until in 2015 it was announced that parasailing was being dropped from Tokyo 2020, along with sevens football, in favor of badminton and taekwondo. A maximum of 23 sports could have been included for 2020 but 22 sports were contested. Football was represented by a 5-a-side version instead, while sailing was dropped altogether. At the time, the IPC said the two sports did not meet the IPC Handbook’s minimum criteria for global reach and it was felt that the changes ensured the freshness of the Paralympic sports program and featured the best possible Paralympic sports.
Spillane closed the session: “World Sailing, together with its Member National Authorities, is working hard to address previous concerns raised by the IPC. We are well ahead of where we were in terms of the 50/50 gender split and We are aiming to reach 30% by the end of 2023. Despite pandemic restrictions, our target of 45 countries across six continents for our major events is on track, and at our last Hansa Worlds alone, we had 181 sailors from 23 nations and six continents, so we are already well advanced on the criteria we need to show the IPC why we should be included.We have a solid strategy moving forward and are working in working closely with our Member National Authorities to prove that sailing should be reinstated in the Paralympic Games for LA28.”