JENSEN BEACH, Fla. — A new group of sailors in Martin County is not letting intellectual disabilities hinder their success.
The "Success Sailing" program at the U.S. Sailing Center of Martin County is helping people with special needs learn skills they can use both on and off the water.
Doug Campbell's son, Andy, who has Down syndrome, takes the sailing lesson once a week.
"He's a phenomenal swimmer," Campbell said. "Andy is a trip. Andy's 45. I've had residential custody and guardianship of him for 20 years."
Andy has a competitive spirit, participating in the Special Olympics in multiple sports.
Campbell wants to see sailing added to the sports offered in the Special Olympics.
"I'm very involved with Special Olympics in Martin County. And Special Olympics kind of came to a grinding halt with COVID," Campbell said.
That halt, in a way, finally sparked Campbell's plan to create a special needs sailing program with the sailing center's executive director, Alan Jenkinson.
The two say they had spoken for years about getting this kind of program running.
"It’s outside. It's a lot of fun. People from all levels of the spectrum with intellectual disabilities can participate," Campbell said.
"The goal here is we're going to teach them to sail. We're going to teach them to race. We're going to give them every opportunity that any other able-bodied kid in town has," Jenkinson said.
Jenkinson said they use Hobie Wave catamarans with the sailors because they are more effective for this purpose because they can be maneuvered in more shallow water. Typically, adaptive boats need deeper water.
"Success Sailing" lets the athletes work at their own pace, with the goal of giving them independence on the water.
"Someday one of their mentors is going to get off the boat and say, 'Andy, get back out there.' And it's going to be a great day," Campbell said.
He hopes to see Andy compete in sailing in the Special Olympics one day. Until then, the sport serves another purpose -- building confidence and independence in athletes with special needs.
Success Sailing is looking to add more sailing classes to its schedule, and possible weekend shifts to accommodate people with special needs who have a harder time finding weekday transportation.
Click here to learn more about the program and the schedule.