Sailing to Independence

May 16, 2002
Downtown Sailing Center Brings Freedom to Children with Disabilities

BALTIMORE, MD - An innovative program of the Downtown Sailing Center is giving children with traumatic brain injuries at Kennedy Krieger Institute and other organizations the opportunity to sail, freely and independently, through the use of specially adapted boats.

Baltimore's Downtown Sailing Center (DSC), a non-profit organization dedicated to giving all people the opportunity to learn to sail, owns the largest fleet of handicapped-accessible sailboats on the East Coast. These boats are designed with these special passengers in mind. The passenger seat sits lower in the water, to prevent capsizing, and the boat is steered by a joystick.

Many of the children involved in the program have severely limited abilities. For them, the sailing experience is the first time in their lives that they have been completely independent.

The Downtown Sailing Center will hold its inaugural fund-raising event for the program, the Ya' Gotta Regatta, beginning at 9:30 a.m. June 1 on a closed course near the Baltimore Museum of Industry's Waterfront Pavilion. At 11:30 a.m., sailors from Kennedy Krieger and other local organizations serving the needs of people with disabilities will put their skills to work, racing against their competitors in the DSC's Australian 10 Access Dinghies. There also will be races in the DSC's J-22s and Sonar keelboats, land-based activities, lunch and refreshments under the waterfront Pavilion.

Sailing a boat was something Kansas-born David Roane never thought he would do. After a car accident in November 2000, David was paralyzed from the neck down, unable to walk, dress and do the most basic of tasks. He received his rehabilitation at Kennedy Krieger.

A high school football player with aspirations of playing in college, David never could have imagined that he would, at the age of 16, be dependent on a wheel chair for movement, with little feeling in his arms and hands. But with dedication, help from therapists at Kennedy Krieger, and a modified boat, David has rediscovered independence.

"He is a very determined and motivated young man. He has dreams of being a lawyer and I believe he will meet that goal," says Kelly Pittlekow, David's therapeutic recreation therapist at Kennedy Krieger. The experience has done wonders for David's therapy and self-esteem, Pittelkow says.

Steve Gross, president of DSC, is interested in getting more children like David involved in sailing. He believes the up-coming regatta will bring attention to the Adapted Sailing Program. "This is more than just a race, this is an event to help the kids."

The DSC's Access Dinghies are an ideal sailing platform for people of all abilities. The DSC has a long record of successful programs, including its Super Kids' Camp, a city-wide summer reading program for elementary school children organized by the Parks & People Foundation. Other programs include a summer camp for juniors, weekly racing programs, lessons and recreational sailing opportunities for adults, monthly social events for members and after-school programs for city youth.

The DSC won U.S. Sailing Association's "Outstanding Seasonal Sailing Program" award in 2000 and Executive Director Kirk Culbertson won the 2001 award for "Outstanding Executive Director of a Seasonal Sailing Program." U.S. Sailing Association is the national governing body of sailing education and sailboat racing.

Kennedy Krieger Institute is dedicated to helping children and adolescents with disabilities resulting from disorders of the brain achieve their potential and participate as fully as possible in family, community and school life. For more information about Kennedy Krieger Institute, visit www.kennedykrieger.org.

Media Contact Inquiries:

Allison Loritz, (443) 923-7330
Julie Lincoln, (443) 923-7334