What activity or hobby feeds your soul, gives your life balance, or restores a feeling of wholeness? For me, it is sailing. I find a restorative feeling – a mental uplift – when I sail. Can sailing allow one to experience health or a greater sense of life? You might be surprised to learn that a doctor prescribes it. And, many who face physical disabilities report that, when sailing, they experience life in ways they couldn’t imagine!
I have what can only be described as a deeply spiritual connection to sailing. It’s the same enjoyment that some find by listening to an inspiring symphony, hiking in the mountains, or a walk on the beach. Once I cast off from the dock and head away from shore, I feel whole, uplifted, and exhilarated. Joe Cooper a former America’s Cup sailor with 60,000 miles of sailing experience, who now owns a sailing business in Newport, Rhode Island says, “I have always thought that an afternoon’s sailing was way better than a week in a spa for blowing out the cobwebs.”
An opportunity to leave a clinical environment and head out to sea on a beautiful yacht for a few hours is in line with one Boston MD. Dr. Lori Wirth, Medical Director for head and neck cancers at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, feels that her patients can benefit from “a spirit-lifting day at sea”. Dr. Wirth states, “Being able to personally prescribe a day of restorative healing on a beautiful boat on the water is extremely motivating,” On the www.sailingheals.org website you will find some inspiring photos and more information about their mission which offers, “…to bring the great sport of sailing and the healing properties of the sea to people who might not ordinarily be exposed to its benefits”.
Sailing as therapy isn’t new. In 1978, two visionary, wheelchair-bound veterans were inspired to offer sailing lessons and sailboat racing opportunities to the disabled. Appropriately named Challenged America (www.challengedamerica.org), the organization they created has offered over 35 years of creative and adaptive sailing experiences to improve the health, confidence, and well-being of the disabled. Colin Smith, a Challenged America Participant, writes, “Challenged America is very important to me not just because sailing is my passion, but because what it has taught me about myself…I thought sailing was part of my past. Something I could no longer do as a result of Muscular Dystrophy. This program has enabled me to sail again and experience feelings I hadn’t felt for a very long time—feelings like hope, empowerment and freedom…I learned that I could leave my disabilities at the dock, sail in a seven-boat regatta and win!”
A 19th century woman, Mary Baker Eddy, who was a spiritual seeker and semi-invalid for the first half of her life, used many sailing references in her writings. She also derived inspiration from just looking out to sea at places like Red Rocks, a beautiful setting in Lynn, MA just north of Boston. Eddy wrote this inspiring sailing reference that speaks to this sailor’s heart, “it rejoices me that you are recognizing the proper course, unfurling your banner to the breeze of God, and sailing over rough seas with the helm in His hands”. Eddy, Miscellany, page 232:1 And, after 45 years of ill-health, she spent the next 45 helping people find health by teaching them how to chart a course to an understanding of God that produces better health.
Sailing has the potential to uplift one’s spirits, health and well-being. So do many other activities that force us to leave our “disabilities at the dock”. Where will you go to feel that spiritual uplift that is rightfully yours?
Steve Drake is a health writer and legislative representative for Christian Science in Missouri