If Julio Reguero is successful, he’ll make history by being the first sailor from Puerto Rico to mount a disabled campaign. His sights? The 2008 Summer Paralympic Games in Beijing, China. The foundation for this goal lies in Reguero’s love of sailing.
“I’ve been sailing since the age of 14, and got my start in the Sunfish. We lived right on the beach, in Ocean Park, so it was easy. I also sailed Hobie cats,” he says. Reguero’s move to a bigger boat came thanks to Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
“There was a storm-damaged Beneteau First that I bought, fixed up and sailed in regattas over the next seven years,” Reguero says. His Beneteau days came to an abrupt halt during a Discover the Caribbean regatta in November 1996. A port-starboard collision caused the vessel enough damage to be considered a total loss.
“After this,” Reguero explains, “I sailed aboard other boats for awhile, one of them being a J/105. Of them all, I fell in love with the J/105 due to its speed, friendly handling, and very comfortable design. In a touch of destiny, the owner had to sell the boat due to financial problems and I bought it.” Over the years, Reguero has sailed his J/105, Umakau, in St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John, Tortola and Puerto Rico.
It was a motorcycle accident in 2001 that launched Reguero on the road towards a disabled sailing campaign. “After losing my leg, racing Umakau was the one thing that made me feel alive and able,” he says. “You see, my life had changed 180 degrees. Sailing was and was still something I could do and do well. The fact that I became disabled was never a factor on the water.”
He continues, “When my friend, Waldo Esparza, suggested I try the 2.4’s, it provided me with a challenge. Aboard Umakau, our team works together for a common goal. That is, winning. In a 2.4, I have to push myself, there’s no help, no crew. It’s a single-handed boat. But, the goal is still the same – winning.”
Like Reguero, Esparza had also become disabled in a motorcycle accident. He ultimately became a prosthetist, the profession in which he and Reguero first met, and he sailed disabled in a Sonar during the 1996 Summer Paralympics in Atlanta. The Paralympic Games started in 1948, however sailing was added only in 1996 in Atlanta, and then only as a demonstration sport. Sailing became accepted as a full medal sport at the Sydney 2000 Paralympics.
“I’ll always be grateful to Waldo for his friendship and for introducing me to the 2.4’s,” Reguero says. The 2.4, officially called the International 2.4m Racing Sailboat, is 13-foot 8-inches long, weighs 572-pounds – including 400 pounds of removable lead ballast, and has a mainsail and jib. Instead of a spinnaker, it had a whisker pole with an easy launching system to wing out the jib downwind. It also has foot pedals for steering.
“It’s not an easy boat to sail,” Reguero says. “It is a boat that needs both feet to work and I only have one. So, the mechanics of the boat and handling are done with the hands. I have to handle 11 different adjustments with just two hands.”
There are a little over 600 International 2.4ms in the world sailing, and only one in Puerto Rico, so key for Reguero is to travel to compete with other identical boats. In January 2006 he traveled to Perth, Australia, to compete in the IFDS (International Federation of Disabled Sailing) World Sailing Championships.
“I spent a total of 22 days there. It was great. The only thing is that we practiced in 20-plus knots of breeze and saw only an average of 6 knots for the regatta.”
By virtue of being the solo competitor from his country, Reguero wound up practicing with the U.S. Team with expert coaching by Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, Betsy Allison.
“Betsy is a power machine,” he says. “She is fearless and nonstop. She never quits and takes every single moment as an opportunity to teach. All the technique, tuning guides, and performance to make the boat faster I owe to her. She is amazing when it comes to currents, starts and downwind techniques.”
Seven of the 16 slots for Beijing in the 2.4 class were decided in Australia. This summer and fall, Reguero will work hard to quality Puerto Rico and earn his slot.
In June, he’ll travel to Finland for the 2.4m Worlds. Then, he’ll head in July to New York for the 2.4 Nationals, and finally to Rhode Island in October for the 2007 IFDS Championships.
His success will accomplish much more than put Puerto Rico on the map in terms of disabled sailing. “It gives hope to every disabled sailor out there. If you put your mind and heart into it, you can do it. A paralympic campaign means that here in the Caribbean we have athletes that are seen for their abilities and not just their disabilities, and are capable of becoming an Olympic athletes same as any other.”
He adds, “I want my kids to know that even when life sometimes is at odds with you, giving up on life is not an option. I want to make them proud of me, and be an example for them.”
For those sailors with disabilities who would like to undertake a similar campaign, Reguero advises, “Get organized, get working, and go for it. It takes a lot of work and patience but the payoff is incredible.”