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The team representing the U.S. Virgin Islands (from left): Tony Sanpere, Jan Robinson, John Foster and David Flaherty (front)
The team representing the U.S. Virgin Islands (from left): Tony Sanpere, Jan Robinson, John Foster and David Flaherty (front)

Competitive Sailing Opportunities For Sailors with Disabilities

Held in July at Sail Newport’s facility in Fort Adams Park, Newport, R.I., the aim of the C. Thomas Clagett, Jr. Memorial Clinic & Regatta is to become the leader in developing competitive sailing opportunities for sailors with disabilities. This includes taking them to the elite level of sailing in order to increase the talent pool of U.S. sailors vying for Paralympic competition. Six medals have been won at the Paralympic Games (2008 & 2012) by veterans of the Clagett Regatta.

The Clagett is sailed in three Paralympic class boats: The Sonar (three-person); SKUD-18 (two-person, man and woman), and the single-handed 2.4 Metre. Both the Sonar and the 2.4 classes accept able-bodied sailors. Having able-bodied sailors in the fleet increases the level of competition and helps make better training opportunities for the Paralympic hopefuls.

For the Virgin Island team it began with a question from John Foster, Commodore of the St. Thomas Yacht Club, to David Flaherty: “How would you like to go to Rio and sail in the Paralympics?” Dave laughed, made a phone call to his friend, Tony Sanpere, and a team was formed.

Flaherty moved to St. Thomas in 1990 having sailed for many years on different boats, and in many regattas, until he had a stroke in 2009.

Tony Sanpere spent nine years in the U.S. Army and was deployed to Vietnam where he was wounded by an enemy mine. The worst damage was to his elbow and the hospital wanted to amputate, but Tony refused. Eventually he returned home to Georgia and spent eight months in and out of hospital. At the time, Tony’s father and brother were living in St. Croix, and he moved there with his family in 1969. His sailing career started on his 30th birthday when he bought a Hobbie 14 and sailed out of the St. Thomas Yacht Club. When Rudy Thompson, a sailing pioneer and Olympian, later asked Tony to join him on his Soling, he was hooked.

John Foster, former six-time Olympian, was the able-bodied sailor on the V.I. Team. Foster says it was the most outstanding, rewarding regatta that he has ever attended.

The competitors spend the first day working with assigned coaches that included world champions and Olympic sailors. And it’s this coaching clinic, held before the regatta, that makes this event so special.

Everyone involved in the clinic are experts in their field including lead coach Betsy Allison, herself a top professional sailor; John Vandemoer, head sailing coach at Stanford University, and sail maker Bill Shore from Newport, who holds many championship titles. Coach Craig Guthrie from Halifax, Canada, coached Paul Tingley to a Paralympic gold medal in 2004.

The Clagett has not only succeeded in its core mission of providing sailors with disabilities the tools to improve their skills and the opportunity to test them in competition, it has had a positive impact on the participants quality of life by assisting each individual achieve personal competitive goals, freedom and adventure.

Editor’s note: If you live in the US Virgin Islands and are disabled and know how to sail, or are interested in learning how to sail, then please contact either Commodore John Foster: fozzisnow@gmail.com or Jan Robinson: captjan2@gmail.com. Sponsorship opportunities are available.

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