To Michelle Frazier, a disabled U.S. Air Force veteran and pilot, flying and sailing have a lot in common. Both require quite a bit of skill, along with knowledge of wind and air currents.
But while flying has been a lifelong love, Frazier only recently discovered her passion for sailing. It's a sport she might never have explored if not for the Wayzata Community Sailing Center's Adaptive Sailing Program, which aims to encourage people with disabilities to give sailing a try.
"I think it's a wonderful opportunity. There's quite a bit of translation for me between the airplane and the sailboat," she said.
Frazier's lessons are made possible through a partnership between the Wayzata Community Sailing Center and Operation Liberty, a Department of Defense program administered by Courage Center, a rehab center in Golden Valley.
Frazier, 49, has gone sailing on Lake Minnetonka about five times this spring and summer.
A large computer fell on her decades ago while she was flying, causing a spine injury that has left her with chronic pain. She can walk short distances with a cane and wears a vest to support her torso while sailing.
She said the Sailing Center program's goal is an important one -- to encourage those with disabilities to remain active, and to let them know their disability doesn't have to hold them back.
"When you have a disability, there are all these things you can't do. You have to embrace small pleasures and new pleasures, like sailing for me," she said.
Michelle Frazier's husband, Kyle Frazier, said sailing has had a positive effect on his wife.
"It's been therapeutic and actually very healing for her," he said.
Focused on community outreach
The Sailing Center primarily is a sailing school, offering lessons to 400 to 500 kids each year, starting at age 5. High school sailing teams practice there in the spring and fall, along with the University of Minnesota sailing team.
But if you ask Ernest Brody about its mission, he takes out his business card.
"My card says, 'sailing for everyone.' That's what we're about. When we say sailing for everyone, we mean everyone. It's what makes us unique," said Brody, director of the Sailing Center's Adaptive Sailing Program.
That means the Sailing Center does community outreach in the form of youth summer camps, working with groups like the YMCA, Interfaith Outreach and Boy Scouts. It offers scholarships to kids who wouldn't normally be able to attend.
An avid sailor himself, Brody has helped shape the Sailing Center's offerings for those with disabilities.
He began in 2009, when he took a group of visually-impaired teenagers out to learn about sailing.
This summer, Brody and the Sailing Center have hosted four open houses for those with disabilities and one Operation Liberty outing for veterans. Each event allowed disabled people to learn about sailing and see the equipment available for those with special needs.
Accommodations include a bench and bar that allow individuals to work themselves across the boat to trim the sails. A sliding chair moves and switches directions with a tug on a rope.
"They all loved it. We're going to follow up with some of them and give lessons," he said. "I've had sailors tell me, 'It feels so good to be able to do something other people do every day.'"
Sailing into the future
Plans include continuing to encourage those with disabilities, veterans or not. Brody would like to develop events in which sailors can practice cruising, or sailing without racing.
One day, Brody wants to organize a racing team, so people with disabilities can compete.
Frazier said that when she masters the basics -- among other things, she already knows how to operate the jib, the small sail in the front of the boat -- she may be open to joining a racing team.
And who knows? She and her husband may buy a sailboat one day.
For now, though, she's happy to be part of the Sailing Center community, one that she says welcomed her with open arms.
"Right now, I'm just trying to be a cheerleader to get other disabled people to give it a try," Frazier said.
"It's a really easy group to be a part of, with no prerequisites to be there other than a love of sailing or wanting to learn. I can only compare it to flying -- that love of something."
Erin Adler is a Twin Cities freelance writer.