**Our pre sail brief begins with, “OK, so today we would like you to go out sailing for some B-roll footage.” **Maybe my long winter layoff from sailing really has affected my brain, but I’m awfully used to a pre-sail briefing sounding like, “Today we’re practicing jibe sets.” It’s not until the camera guys are jumping in the boat that I remember that my first day sailing this year is being filmed for a TV series, and a segment for NBC’s Today show. Unfortunately for my ego, my 15 minutes of fame is greatly overshadowed by my skipper for the day, Paralympic gold medalist Maureen McKinnon-Tucker. When not pursuing Olympic glory, McKinnon-Tucker is the coordinator for adaptive sailing at Piers Park Sailing Center in East Boston, Mass., one of the nation’s hot spots for disabled sailing access. Piers Park’s goal is to allow everyone access to sailing, regardless of physical or financial ability, and has been constructed specifically to allow for persons of all disabilities to sail their fleet of Sonar keelboats. From simple articulating seats, to complex “sip and puff” technology which allows quadriplegic sailors to steer the boat using nothing but their lungs, Piers Park empowers all to be participants, not passengers in the sport of sailing.
Jothy Rosenburg is also looking to empower sailors and non-sailors alike through a new TV reality show called “Who Says I Can’t?” According to his website: “Who Says I Can’t?” is a television show that tells the story of brave and determined men and women as they overcome disabilities and become athletes. The program will feature the up-close-and-personal style of Olympic features combined with the heart-warming community elements of “Extreme Makeover” and mix them with the excitement of “The Amazing Race.”
“Who Says I Can’t?” will be hosted by Rosenberg, a cancer survivor, entrepreneur, and extreme athlete. Rosenberg lost a leg and then a lung to cancer as a teenager. With an experimental treatment, he beat the odds and survived to become an avid swimmer and biker. He also earned a PhD in computer science and has started various high tech companies. He’s a true renaissance man.
In each hour-long episode, Rosenberg will introduce three different characters on location and tell their story using interviews with them, family members and doctors. Family photos and videos will help tell the story. He’ll then participate with the subject in whatever athletic endeavor he or she is undertaking. Whether it’s climbing a mountain, open water swimming or mountain biking, Rosenberg will say_ “Who Says I Can’t?”_ and give it his best shot.
Along the way Rosenberg will relate his own experiences while encouraging the subjects. He was a 16-year-old high school student when diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a cancerous bone tumor that usually develops during adolescence. He had an above knee amputation. Three years later, while in college, the cancer metastasized and part of his lungs had to be removed. A doctor told him no one had previously survived this type of cancer once it spreads to the lungs.
So, Rosenberg headed to the Rocky Mountains. His plan: “Ski ’til I die.” Well, spring came, the snow melted and he was still alive. He went on to get a PhD in computer science and become a successful tech entrepreneur and never stopped skiing, swimming, riding, rafting and trying new things every time he was challenged. He’s swum the Alcatraz Sharkfest event 17 times, rode the 192-mile Pan Mass Challenge Bike-a-thon 8 times and works out just about every day.
As it turns out, he’s is a pretty good sailor too. Piers Park Sailing Center is the subject of the first episode of “Who Says I Can’t?” and Maureen and I are to match race Rosenberg as a primary segment of the show. Should be a walk in the park with an Paralympic medalist onboard, right? Not really. Rosenberg comes at us with a fierce determination, and it’s clear he’s not going to let us win.
With the breeze in the mid teens, the Sonars bob and weave in close combat. Our onboard TV camera crew is getting thrown around, but the producers in a nearby boat are too caught up in the action to notice. At the first mark rounding, Rosenberg catches a shift first and rounds just ahead of us. We pounce downwind and sail into a controlling position. With just inches between the boats the tension is high. Maybe the America’s Cup television producers can learn from us, for this is as good as racing gets! Whichever teams jibes better will win the race. Both teams hit the layline and start to jibe. There’s yelling and luffing and absolutely no give between the two teams right up until the end. I’d like to tell you that we won, but I don’t want to spoil the show?
The nation’s first taste of extreme disabled sailing action will be Aug. 11, when a preview of our episode will air on NBC’s Today show. “Who Says I Can’t?” will debut this fall. If you’re too motivated to wait that long to see what happened, then it’s time to get in on the action yourself. Centers like Piers Park exist across the country and rely on the help and support of the sailing community to survive. You can find the site nearest you here: http://racing.ussailing.org/Disabled_Sailing/Where_to_sail.htm
Centers like Piers Park are always looking for able-bodied companion sailors to assist its disabled members in boat operation. If you love the sport of sailing and want to share that love, there is no better feeling than, for example, watching a blind sailor break out into a grin, feeling the wind on his face as he steers into a stiff sea breeze. Additionally, adaptive programs are expensive to operate due to the specialized equipment required. Financial donations are always appreciated. Always be a sailor, not a passenger, and support those who make it happen!
For more information on Jothy Rosenberg and “Who Says I Can’t,” and a preview of the first show featuring McKinnon-Tucker: www.whosaysicant.org
For more information on Piers Park Sailing Center: www.piersparksailing.org