John Baker visits Peterborough Sailability: Last month the London Paralympics showed exactly what can be achieved by people with physical and learning disabilities.
From our area Doddington’s Jonnie Peacock blitzed the 100 metres, Wisbech’s Jody Cundy bagged a bronze in the C4/5 men’s 4km pursuit, while Stilton’s Matt Skelhon enjoyed picked up a Silver in the mixed R3-10m Air Rifle Prone SH1.
Behind these three success stories – and many more in the Paralympics, Olympics, and local and other grass-roots sport - are volunteers, helpers, organisers and supporters.
One of the region’s real success stories, built on similar foundations, is Peterborough Sailability, which helps disabled people enjoy the skills of sailing at Ferry Meadows.
From just one afternoon a week in 2006, with three sailing boats and six sailors in total, the project now runs on two full days and also Saturday mornings, catering for people who work during the week.
The 80-100 sailors mainly come from Peterborough, but some come from outlying towns and villages and one group comes from Huntingdon. Most are adults there are some children and teenagers.
Helping them are 50 unpaid volunteers, some of whom are qualified sailors themselves to take members out on the water.
Others are shore-based, launching and recovering the boats, rigging and repairing boats and equipment, handling bookings, and helping sailors into the correct sailing clothing.
Peterborough Sailability, part of the national RYA (Royal Yachting Association) umbrella, also saw two of its members pick up awards earlier this year.
The Mayor of Peterborough Cllr George Simons and the Mayoress Sylvia Simons presented sailors Paul Woolnough and Lisa Fowkes with RYA bronze awards for their sailing skills.
Lisa can be seen in the video alongside Margaret Bothamly, who is the sailing buddy of Darren Wisdom, and 18-year-old Thomas Neale.
These awards comprise just part of a wide range of achievements which are reflected in the group.
Secretary James Hopgood said: “The Paralympic Games may be over, but we at Peterborough Sailability are still going strong, offering sailing to 90-100 disabled people every week at Ferry Meadows.
“Some of these have been taught to sail solo, and they have gone on to greater things.
“Most will never achieve this independence, but they come back, week after week, to enjoy the fresh air, the wind on their cheek, and the chuckle of water under the bow.
“The Paralympics showed super-athletes at the peak of their sport, achieving outstanding results in front of an absorbed nation. It opened our eyes and gave us all a greater understanding of disability: what disabled people can achieve rather than what they cannot.
“Most people are nowhere near this level of achievement, but still want to have a go at some form of outdoor activity. Sailability helps to cater for this need, and the smiles on sailors’ faces - when they come back in after a good sail on the lake - say it all.
“Furthermore, having Sailability only 2 miles from the centre of Peterborough enables us easily to provide a great community service to those right across the city who are disabled.
“Sailability is run entirely by volunteers, whom we train on site. On the practical side we learn how to rig and launch boats, and to accompany disabled sailors out on the water. On the social side, we all help to give our sailors a happy time.
“As in the Paralympics, we are the games-makers for sailors, their parents, teachers and carers, and we are very proud of what we do.”
Sailability will run for 2012 until the end of October. For more information on how to take part go to www.peterboroughsailability.org.uk