The 42 sailors who participated in August's Mobility Cup, held at the Pointe Claire Yacht Club near Montreal, may not have been expecting a galvanizing event. But that's precisely what it was for many of them.
The experience was so motivating for Richard Dionne of Moncton, N.B., for instance, that he's vowed to train for the 2012 Paralympics in London. Tim Ripley of Randolph, New Jersey hadn't sailed for seven years when he decided – on the spur of a moment – to travel to Montreal for the event. And then there was Michel Constantin of Quebec City, who had never before sailed, let alone raced, but was so moved by the experience that he's determined to create an adapted sailing group in his home town.
"I thought the whole week was magical," said Ripley.
This year's Mobility Cup, an international regatta for sailors with disabilities that was started in 1991, was organized and hosted by the Association quebecoise de voile adaptée (AQVA).
Participants, who had a variety of disabilities, traveled from across Canada, the U.S., New Zealand and England to compete in races held over a five-day period. Some 23 boats raced in the gold 'experienced' fleet. 19 participated in the silver 'development' fleet. The sailors, who ranged in age from 16 to 64, had a variety of disabilities; most used wheelchairs. All sailed in Martin 16s, an adapted boat that can be sailed single-handedly or with a companion.
Members of the fleet compensated for the lack of wind on day five by partying heartily. "What I like most about Mobility Cup is the camaraderie," says Stone. "It's like a homecoming. You see old friends from one year to the next and meet new people. One person who had never sailed in his life got bitten by the bug and went home to set up a program in Quebec City."
Stone, an occupational therapist, says one of the most gratifying sights of the week was watching able-bodied Pointe Claire Yacht Club members socializing with the Mobility Cup participants. "This is about the integration of people with disabilities," she said, adding that a barbecue hosted by the yacht club allowed "everyone to mingle and have a good time.
One sailor who was touched by the magic of the week hadn't expected to participate. He'd been away from the sailing scene for about seven years. "At the beginning of August, I was trying to figure out what to do with my vacation and I found the Mobility Cup on the web," Tim Ripley said. "It was an impulsive thing. But I found the level of competition had improved since I had sailed in the early 90s. I went in thinking that if I didn't hit anyone, I'd have a good week. I had forgotten all the rules and couldn't even remember port and starboard."
Ripley, a paraplegic, exceeded his expectation by placing second in the silver fleet. But what struck him most during his week in Pointe Claire was how well organized the event was. "The AQVA has a lot of love," he said. "It all re-ignited my interest in sailing."
Richard Dionne, who finished first in the silver fleet was sailing in his third Mobility Cup. "There were some people who had never raced but for the top 10 places in the silver fleet, it was competitive," he said.
Calgary sailor Merle Hickey won the top spot in the gold fleet, as he did in 2003 and 2004. "I was apprehensive this year," he said. "The competition on the water was good. I concentrated on getting good starts. I won the first two races so I wasn't sure if I was dominant or the other guys were having a slow start."
Stone had spent a year organizing the event and says she was moved by the fact that 100 volunteers helped out. "Another high moment of the week was when one of my sisters volunteered to help out for a few days," she said. "She was in the crash boat and was so impressed at what the sailors could do."
And then there was all that magic that left sailors vowing to return to next year's Mobility Cup. "My goal was to finish in the top three," said Richard Dionne. "I told myself that regardless of the outcome, I would sail next year in the gold fleet. And I will sail next year in the gold fleet."
Tim Ripley is equally adamant. "I had a blast," he said. "I'll be back as many times as I can to sail in the Mobility Cup."