Sunday, April 24, 2016

Warrior Sailing Team @ Charleston!

J/22 Warrior Sailing Team at Charleston Race Week (Charleston, SC)- The Warrior Sailing Team participated in the J/22 class at Charleston Race Week.  Here’s a nice story from Grace Raynor at The Post & Courier newspaper in Charleston.

“Upon first glance, Ben Poucher knows it’s not obvious. Another sailor would physically have to peel his or her eyes off of the racing course ahead and actively look into the Warrior Sailing Team’s boat in order to fully see the difference.

Even then, Poucher said, there’s still a chance it’s not noticeable.

“We have two amputees and a blind guy and myself on a boat,” Poucher said. “So that would be four people, six legs and six eyes.”

Poucher is the director of Warrior Sailing, a program that first began in 2013 and was created to teach ill, injured or wounded military members — active or retired — about sailing. And on Sunday, the final day of Sperry Charleston Race Week, Poucher and three veterans finished third in their division, sailing a J/22.

Poucher, the coach, was joined by Scott Ford, David Caras and Sammy Lugo.

Ford, who served in the Navy for eight years, worked the mainsail. He’s been legally blind since 2005.

“I got a vaccine for Japanese encephalitis,” he said. “And had a reaction.”

Caras, an above-the-knee amputee, and Lugo, a below-the-knee amputee, were in charge of operating the jib and steering the boat, respectively. Caras flew in helicopters for the U.S. Coast Guard for more than two decades, while Lugo served in the U.S. Army for nearly nine years.

“I got injured in Iraq in 2007 — IED explosion,” Lugo said. “I’m a below amputee on the left and I have multiple fractures, so I have a bunch of hardware in my right knee and I had a patella replacement.”

The trio of veterans all realize they’re different physically, but with Poucher’s help, they’ve mastered the art of sailing in a manner that caters to each of their strengths.

The result is a well-oiled machine, where everyone has a specific job and each teammate is expected to help the others along the way.

Ford relies heavily on his hearing when he operates the main sail, as well as his lower half, which allows him to discern which way the boat is angled.

“The heel of the boat is critical in making the boat go straight forward as opposed to sliding sideways,” he said. “Hearing the waves, the sound of the waves on the sound of the boat (helps).”

Caras has figured out a way to hang on the sides and the rail of the boat for balance purposes, without falling overboard himself.

“I’m a lot more mobile now and comfortable with my balance,” he said.

And Lugo serves as the eyes of the team, making sure it stays on course as he steers.

Ford said there’s a part of Warrior Sailing that reminds him of being back in the unit — the camaraderie, the teamwork and the sense of outspokenness are all present on the boat, just as they were when he served in the military. Political correctness goes out the door and other people’s feelings aren’t a factor when it’s race time.

“In the military, it’s really, ‘Who cares about your feelings?’” he said. “‘Let’s get the job done.’”

His hope is that those who see the Warrior Sailing team are inspired — realizing that a physical disability is something that can be conquered. The group has no plans to slow down anytime soon.

“My response to that is even though you have a disability, you can overcome it and you can be out on the water enjoying the air and adventurous experience of sailing,” Ford said. “We got knocked down three or four times this week and that was pretty incredible.”