Independence Cup returns to Burnham Harbor

The Independence Cup Regatta is back on Lake Michigan this weekend. Adults with disabilities are getting the chance to compete in the sailing competition.

Paralympic sailor Rick Doerr is back once again to take on the waters of Lake Michigan in this year's Independence Cup.

"Sailing and the Goldman Foundation has opened my life up to so many really interesting and beautiful things and going to these places I never probably would have gone to if I had not gotten involved in racing," said Rick Doerr, world champion Paralympic sailor.

In 1992, Doerr was in a car accident that left him with a spinal injury and now he has to use a wheelchair. It was his physical therapist that put him up to the challenge of sailing.

"I'd sailed all my life, and at this point I was in a wheelchair, and I didn't think that that could get done. So the therapist who I was working with at the time taunted me and said, 'Well, why don't you try it?' and when anyone puts a challenge to me, I always take it up," Doerr said.

Doerr, like many others in the race, say sailing gives them a sense of freedom.

"Sailing, for me, it frees my spirit," said sailor Kathiana Reeves. "It allows me to soar with the wind. It's a very wonderful opportunity to just enjoy being out in nature, enjoying water, being with other people and being in a team sport and it's the type of sport where you are always learning something new, never boring and always something to figure out in a positive, fun way."

Each person competes in a boat adapted to their specific disability.

"Every boat is a little bit different because everyone's disability is a little bit different," said Joe Harris, manager of sailing and boating for the Chicago Park District. "What we're able to do is pin point what people's needs are and we adapt the boat specifically for them. So for instance, some individuals can't move around very well, like say we have an amputee, so they might not need a whole lot of adaptations, where we may have someone who's paralyzed and they might need lot of adaptations."

The Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Foundation provides the funding for all the boats the participants use and they offer programming to teach adults with disabilities and at risk youth to sail, focusing on giving new opportunities for those who need it most.

"It keeps you going, it keeps you active," Doerr said. "It gives you something to really shoot for. You realize that you don't know something and you get better at that."

"The serotonin level for me is accelerated being out in the sun and the wind, and so even though I have a disability, it makes me feel more invigorated about everything that I do," Reeves said.

"Volunteers love to come down and make sure that people who can't access life like we normally do and take for granted have an opportunity to go out there and have a great time," said Harris.

Sunday is the final day of the Independence Cup and racing starts again at Burnham Harbor at 9 a.m.
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