Local military veterans are finding renewed purpose amidst the chaos of winds and strong currents.
During a 3-day event, operating out of the St. Petersburg Sailing Center, participants of the Warrior Sailing Basic Training Camp are working together in small teams aboard Sonar sailboats, with an on-board professional coach accompanying each team.
By the end of the camp, they will have the basic skills to maneuver a boat on Tampa Bay or wherever they live.
The Warrior Sailing Program (WSP) was founded in St. Petersburg and has grown to serving locations around the country. The mission is to introduce active military and veterans with disabilities to the sport of sailing, with opportunities ranging from introductory level sailing to world championship competition and maritime career development. WSP is partnering with the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and the St. Petersburg Sailing Center to give back the gift of competition, camaraderie and being a part of a unit.
"This is a special event for us. Not only are we coming back to the waters where we started the program," explains co-founder Jen French, "but for the first time we have one of our wounded veteran graduates from 2013, Sammy Lugo, who is now coaching for us. That really speaks to how we teach the sport and help our graduates elevate to whatever level that they want to pursue in the sport."
The program is offered at no cost to participants, with adaptive technology brought in by the Warrior Sailing and sailboats provided by St. Petersburg Yacht Club. The participants come from all branches of the military and have varying injuries that range from limb loss, traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress and other physical disabilities from injuries incurred while serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Vietnam.
Two area Paralympians take to the waters of Tampa Bay to share their skills with wounded veterans, giving them a new challenge, to learn the sport of sailing.
Graduates from the Basic Training Camp will learn about local sailing opportunities and those in their hometowns. Select graduates have the opportunity to join the advanced training to earn a keelboat certification or learn racing skills to compete in open and disabled racing events both across the country and around the world. More information on the Warrior Sailing Program can be found online at www.warriorsailing.org.