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Training for the Biggest Sporting Event of the Year

I arrived at the BVI Watersports Centre in Manuel Reef on a Thursday evening as kids of all ages darted from the shed to the dinghies to the dock, rigging up Picos, grabbing life jackets and putting Laser 2000s onto trailers. Principal Alison Knights Bramble soon assembled them all into the classroom where one student, Delroy Gordon, and his assistant instructed the others on how to translate some frequently used sailing terms into sign language. The kids learned how to sign “sail,” “rope,” “buoy” and the names of colours—terms that might be useful to know when racing. Delroy, a student at BVI Technical and Vocational Institute, is one of the five athletes that will be representing the BVI this summer in the sailing discipline in June at the Special Olympics Summer Games in Greece. He and the five other sailors have been training for the past two years for this event.


After sign language instruction, I spoke with athlete Akeem David, another SOBVI athlete and student at Eslyn Henley Richiez Learning Centre. As he prepared to go on the water, Akeem told me that he was new to sailing, but he liked sailing Picos and that he was excited about going to Greece. “Going fast is my favourite thing,” he said, a trait shared by his team mates and one which should ensure their victory in the Summer Games.
Once the sailors and their boats were ready, Alison took me out on the BVI Watersports Centre’s safety boat, the RIB Pink Panther, and we watched the sailors race around the bay. “This kind of session is all about mixed ability, mixed sailing ability,” Alison said. She reiterated a sentiment expressed by disability sports ambassador Geoff Holt, that sailing allows individuals to leave their disability behind on land.
The waves lapped against the rubber boat as we bobbed along beside the students, and Alison instructed them; answering a question about the difference between a dagger board and a centreboard, advising the use of “rolly tacks and jibes” on the Laser 2000 because of its hull and the low wind, and telling one student to pull his sail tight. “Teaching on a short start line, on a small course with a lot of obstacles and doing multiple rounds is a lot more beneficial than just going one mile that way and one mile back,” she said.
As Delroy Gordon and Lenford Pope, a student at BVI Technical and Vocational Institute, led the impromptu race, she said, “What I’m trying to do is cultivate those two in a partnership. Although they’ve known each other for quite a while, and they’ve always sailed around each other, they’ve never sailed together. And they know now, and they know why, and they’re starting to gel.” The two sailors will be sailing as a team in the Special Olympics in Greece. The other two teams will be combinations of athletes and unified partners—able-bodied athletes that train and compete with their less-able team mates. Akeem will be sailing as crew for unified partner Jaye Noel, an RYA-certified assistant instructor and student at Elmore Stoutt High School, while Glenford Gordon, who took first place with Lenford Pope at the 2010 RYA Sailability Multiclass Regatta in Rutland, England, will be skippering a boat with unified partner Elsa Meyers, the only Royal Yachting Association-qualified BVIslander instructor, as crew.
“Yesterday, it was windier, and Lenford was trapezing out here, and he was just screaming with delight,” Alison told me as we watched the students search for wind closer to the Channel. “Lenford’s going to be gutted today because it’s not windy enough for him to get on the wire,” she said, but after a few minutes, Lenford strapped himself into the trapeze and leaned back over the side of the boat. He looked comfortable and natural. “No fear,” Alison said. “A couple of weeks ago, it was blowing about 20 [knots] with five to six-foot waves, and they’d just learned how to put the spinnakers up on the Squibs, and it wasn’t going to be an option. I get out there, and I just sort of assumed that they wouldn’t even dream of doing it, and I turned around and was doing something else, and he’s getting the spinnaker pole out.”
Back on land, each athlete reiterated Akeem’s love of speed. I also spoke with Lenford and Akeem about how they have the advantage over many other international teams by being able to sail year-round, due to our balmy climate. Additionally, the BVI is the only nation in the Caribbean or Latin America that is sending a sailing team to the event. Alison told me, “2010 was dedicated to the selection process…I whittled it down to the final six.” She added, “I am very glad that I took my time and gave the opportunity to all to make the grade. Special Olympics is no different to any other sporting organization. At the end of the day, the top end have to work for their position to represent their country.”     


This is the first time that the BVI will be represented in the Special Olympics, and this year’s Summer Games, according to the Special Olympics website, will be “the world’s largest sporting event of 2011, a celebration of the abilities and accomplishments of people with intellectual disabilities and clear progress toward a new global vision of acceptance.” Lenford said he thought the BVI would win. Akeem concurred. Based on the teamwork, ability, bravery and enjoyment I saw out on the water in Manuel Reef, I wouldn’t be surprised.

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