Back to Families blog

The many shapes of success

As I write, Giles Scott is set to win his first Olympic gold medal in the Finn class at Rio. It got me thinking that with sailing, as in so much of life, success can take many shapes…

I think many families can struggle to find activities everyone enjoys together. And if your son or daughter has a learning disability, it can be twice as hard.

National Family Forum member, Martin Boniface, blogs.
National Family Forum member, Martin Boniface, blogs.

Happily, my youngest son Harry and I have found such an activity. Harry is 24 and has complex learning disabilities and severe epilepsy. He has been supported by Dimensions for the last six years.

Our shared activity is sailing.  Each Friday evening between May and September I meet Harry and his support workers at Aztec, our local sailing club near Droitwich.

Aztec makes the lake and facilities available to a number of organisations and families with adults and children with disabilities.  They have a number of craft available, including two 18 foot yachts in which they can take a handful of people for sails around the lake.

The yachts are crewed by an experienced volunteer and where they can, visitors are encouraged to take part, perhaps steering the yacht or helping to manage the sails.

They also have a number of other craft available.  Known as “access dinghies” these are two seater dinghies that are designed specifically for people with disabilities.

They sit low in the water and I am assured they cannot capsize.  Unlike a traditional dinghy or yacht, steering of the craft is controlled by a joy stick that is located between what I can only describe as a two seater deck chair on which you sit.

Myself and Harry in an "access dinghy"
Myself and Harry in an “access dinghy”

One of the great things about the joy stick is that you move it in the direction you want the dinghy to turn.  This is far easier to understand than a more traditional tiller where to turn to the left, you move the tiller to the right.

Harry and I take out one of these access dinghies each week.  At first he was quite apprehensive and did not like the way the dinghy tipped when the wind picked up.  He also was happy to leave me to do the “sailing”.

Now, we have worked out a good system where Harry has control of the joy stick and decides where we go and I manage the sails.  He also understands that we cannot always go in straight line to somewhere we want to go in the lake.

He has also developed a game where he chooses one of the coloured buoys that are tethered to the lake bottom and we steer towards and round these, making sure he is close enough to touch them.

Over time, Harry has got more confident and relaxed and we will often be out on the lake for around an hour.  I have always loved being on the water and it’s great to see that Harry shares my love of water sports.

Thanks to Aztec, their staff and facilities, both Harry and I can finish the week on a high with an activity we both enjoy in a safe environment.

I have to say thanks to the staff at Dimensions who are always looking for new experiences and activities for Harry to take part in – and who don’t pronounce the fatal words “too risky” at every new idea.

Our next planned activity is a return visit to Go Ape in a few weeks’ time.  Hopefully this time Harry won’t have any seizures whilst 20 feet up in the air on a tree platform – thank heavens for the safety lines!

This Olympics, I’ve heard many interviews with many families, who all describe how hard it can be to live with an Olympian, but ultimately how rewarding it is when that person achieves pinnacles in their careers.

I think every parent of a person with a learning disability would understand that sentiment. So keep going Giles et al, we’ll be cheering you all the way to your respective victories, as we ourselves strive for ours.