Craig Hospital offers its alumni adventure through the Adaptive Sailing Program. Even those with no prior experience can sail independently on their first day on the water.
Stephanie Deml, Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, at Craig Hospital’s Therapeutic Recreation Department, oversees the program, which began in 2011 with a partnership withCommunity Sailing of Colorado (CSC) based in Cherry Creek State Park. This year, 15 sailors participated, including six with spinal cord injuries and nine with traumatic brain injuries. Next year, the fleet will include four 303 Access Dinghies (keelboats that feature joystick controls) and a 2.4 meter keelboat (the kind used in Paralympics racing).
“With the support of CSC Executive Director Brandon Kass, Cherry Creek Marina and generous donors, we were able to purchase a lift system that works on the dock to transfer participants directly into the boats. We pad and position the participants comfortably in the boats and make sure everything is accessible,” Deml explains.
Kyle Mickalowski, quality management data analyst at Craig Hospital, volunteers with the program and enjoys helping participants get in and out of the boats safely. Dockside, an instructor presents a course on sailing basics. A chase boat follows to provide additional instruction on the water. Sailing either independently or as a family, Craig Hospital alumni learn firsthand that they have the skills necessary to be safe and independent on the water. Deml believes there is a direct correlation between sailing and daily activities.
“When someone tries something outside of their comfort zone and has such a great experience, their self confidence increases and carries over to other areas in life. As with many of our recreation programs, the participant is learning with our staff. Part of the process is to problem solve and eliminate barriers,” she says.
That process ignites creativity as participants think of other activities they want to do and discover ways to safely reach their goals.
“Once everyone is in the boats, we are all sailing. No longer do you see limiting physical conditions but big smiles on everyone’s faces as they learn to read the winds and trim the sails,” Deml says.