Wounded veterans from across the country gathered in St. Petersburg this week to learn the sport of sailing for free.

  • Warrior Sailing Program: warriorsailing.org
  • Three-day course that educates, empowers wounded vets
  • Adaptive technology allows wounded warriors with physical disabilities to handle boats

“A lot of times, they leave all the anxieties and the issues that they have of daily living on land,” said Jen French, co-founder of the Warrior Sailing Program. “They go out on the water and they forget all of that.”

French said 21 veterans are participating in the three-day course that ends on Friday. Nathaniel Gorham, 32, from Ft. Meyers, was an Army military police officer who served a tour in Iraq and went blind from exposure.

Gorham said operating the sailboat and being on the water was soothing.

“I’ve been able to work the jib, the mainsail and also drive the boat,” he said. “It’s just really cool to get out there and feel the air and the water.”

Navy veteran Ramesh Haytasingh, 42, from Tampa, uses a wheelchair and suffers from a traumatic brain injury. Haytasingh told us he forgets about his problems while sailing.

“My pain level has been almost irrelevant," said Haytasingh. "My anxiety has been extremely low. I almost have like a care-free attitude. This has been one of the best adaptive therapies that I’ve probably had in a long time.”

French said the vets' military background and experience working in teams translates well into the world of sailing.

“The military understands that the person next to them is really important. So, they all work as a team really well,” said French. “What we’re teaching them are the skills of sailing, and it just comes together beautifully.”

A Paralympic silver medalist herself, French said WSP utilizes adaptive technology that the sailors use on sailboats provided by the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and Sailing Center.

“Those that have physical disabilities, we leave our wheelchairs and our prosthetic limbs behind,” she said. “We got out and use the adaptions and we can go out and sail like everybody else.”
French added there is a waiting list to join the program and they want to expand it.  She also said the group is always looking for more support.

For more information on the program, visit www.warriorsailing.org