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Mindful : February 2015
Sailing is extraordina rily humbling. Harnessing the wind, the waves, the cur- rent—it’s like three-dimensional chess, and the chessboard keeps chang ing. The state of the water constantly shifts. The wind is never the same. As soon as I think, “Yeah, I’m all that,” I make a mistake. I let pride get the best of me. Now humbled, I toss the hubris out of the boat and remember that sailing demands patience—and I appreciate it for that. It continually asks me to work with my breath and my posture to really stay in the boat, in body and mind. Spinal Cord Injury In June of 1990, a car hit me while I was riding a bicycle. My spinal cord was injured in the crash. I was 23. During rehabilitation, I found myself in an adaptive sailing program, and I fell in love with the sport. With sailing I could escape the confines of gravity. Yes, of course, there’s g ravity on the water, but the heaviness of life stays ashore. Voyag- ing into new experiences and beautiful environments, I forget about dry land. My life stays on the dock as I focus on propel- ling the boat forward, free to move about in ways I wouldn’t normally be able to. My first time on a boat, I was a bundle of anxiety. Imag ine not being able to con- trol most of your body while floating and rocking on the water. Until that moment I hadn’t participated in a sport that allowed me to leave my wheelchair—sailing is the only sport in which I can compete against able-bodied people. Once I adapt a boat to my needs I can sail against anyone and with anyone. Few sports offer that kind of even playing field. Not Holding Back When I sail, I bring a competitive mind- set aboard with me, so it’s important to work with my anxiety. I didn’t get into Paralympic and elite-level sailing until 2006, when I realized I had no reason to hold back. Sometimes you have to take a cha nce a nd see what happens, because you can’t always fully assess your own potential, thankfully. Most people don’t get to sail around the world, to be out on the bay in Miami or Halifax or Ireland. Those are the times when I feel so lucky, just to have the privilege of connecting with raw nature. Most of us drive cars everywhere and use computers every day. We’re such control freaks in our world. We forget there are powers greater than us, and we don’t have as much control as we think we do. Sailing brings you back to that space. One of my favorite phrases in sailing is, “You can’t change the wind but you can always adjust your sails.” The only thing you can control is how you perceive the situation you’re in. And that ’s something that ’s true on land or sea. ● Out on the water, racing, contending with the elements, I get to leave the heaviness of life on shore. When I’m clear about what I can control—and what I can’t—I’m carried away by raw nature. By Sarah Everhart Skeels Photograph by Aaron McKenzie Fraser Escaping Gravity February 2015 mindful 29 body