A fresh lot of country codes, boats and faces showed up in Qingdao, China for the 2008 Paralympic Sailing Regatta, which followed the Olympics. The Caribbean Basin’s cheerful representative was Puerto Rico’s Julio Reguero and his coach, Jorge Santiago. Reguero was the only sailor to represent Puerto Rico in either the 2008 Olympics or Paralympics.
Reguero has been a sailor all of his life, but this was his first trip to the Paralympics. The Sonar, SKUD18 and 2.4 Metre Paralympic fleets were thick with past national, hemispheric and world champions, but no fleet was more top heavy with talent than the 2.4 Metre fleet. Reguero went up against past 2.4 Meter Open World Champions and IFDS (International Association of Disabled Sailing) World Champions in a mostly light air regatta, although there was a breeze reminiscent of those off of Club Nautico de San Juan on the last day of the regatta.
Reguero, formerly involved in construction, had his life change when he and his Harley Davidson motor cycle met up with a young driver. Reguero lost his leg in the collision, but didn’t lose his love for sailing. He has had a J-105 for years and actively races it. His prosthetist, Waldo Esparza, lured Regurero into sailing the 2.4 Metre and, before he knew it, he was trying to qualify Puerto Rico for the Paralympics. His first stop was Shake-a-Leg Miami and the 2006 Miami Olympic Classes Regatta where many of the best disabled sailors congregate during the winter.
Reguero then set off for the 2006 IFDS World Championships in Perth, Australia. After two weeks of practicing in heavy air, Reguero and the other competitors were dealt the ultimate, but not uncommon, surprise when Mother Nature delivered light and shifty air for the regatta. It was a great experience but a long way to go to miss qualifying for the Paralympics.
The 2007 IFDS World Championships in Rochester, New York presented the last opportunity for Reguero to qualify Puerto Rico for the Paralympics. Up against 44 teams from 24 countries, Reguero finished ninth and did what he set out to do just a little more than a year earlier. He qualified his country for the most prestigious international sailing event that he could – the 2008 Paralympic Sailing Regatta.
Throughout his Paralympic sailing campaign, Reguero’s biggest sponsor has been the Department of Sports and Recreation of Puerto Rico. The department has provided funding to purchase the small 2.4 Meter single-handed keelboats and to assist with coaching.
Said Reguero as he surveyed the docks filled with Paralympic representatives from all over the world, “Paralympic sailing is so competitive that to do well you need to compete throughout the entire-four year cycle (from one Paralympics to the next).” As it was, for three months leading up to his trip to Qingdao, China, Reguero took to the water for two training sessions a day.
Reguero and his coach, Jorge Santiago, had a fantastic time in Qingdao and learned a lot from former 2.4 Metre Open class World Champion, Nick Scandone of the USA, who managed an unprecedented victory in the SKUD 18 class at the Paralympics, despite the advanced stage of his Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Reguero finished in the middle of the 16-boat fleet. With a beaming smile, he said, “I really want to bring disabled sailing to Puerto Rico. It is such a fun sport.” He will always remember his Paralympic experience and all of the sailors, coaches, assistants, friends and family who exchanged tons of ideas about boat tuning and handling; sailing programs; contact information and invitations to other regattas while there. Whether seated in a 2.4 Metre, a SKUD18 or a Sonar with adaptive equipment, sailors with disabilities can compete on an even playing field with sailors without disabilities and enjoy sailing well into their sunset years.
Lynn Fitzpatrick’s articles on sailing appear regularly in international publications including AARP The Magazine and Cruising World. She has been a highly competitive Snipe sailor and was the 2008 Sports Information Specialist for sailing at the 2008 Olympics.