HALIFAX – You may see more boats out on the water this week.
More than 140 athletes from 24 different countries have descended into Halifax for the International Federation for Disabled Sailing (IFDS) World Championship.
This is the first time Halifax has played host to the event, which is a qualifier for the 2016 Rio Paralympics. Opening ceremonies took place Monday night.
“It’s so exciting to be here in Halifax,” said Liesl Tesch, a member of the Australia team.
Chair Heather Robertson said the world championship required the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, which is hosting the event, to make some major renovations in order to be completely accessible.
“You will see beautiful accessible ramps and then we have to endeavour to make many of the floats and wharves beneath those ramps also very stable and very accessible,” she said.
The upgrades were financed through RNSYS club members and various levels of government.
Robertson said the renovations were necessary in order to make disabled sailors as welcome as able-bodied sailors.
“It’s a wonderful sport and it does set people free,” she said.
She also hopes it encourages people with disabilities to give the sport a try.
“That’s why the sport is so wonderful. It can suit and adapt to people with really quite severe disabilities.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Siobhan MacDonald, 16, of Mabou, Cape Breton.
MacDonald, who has been sailing for six years, is a multiple amputee- above the arm, above the knee and with a partial hand.
“I’m hoping they’ll come out of the shadows and start sailing. Maybe they are a little nervous, especially if they haven’t sailed before. Hopefully they see how fun it is and how much fun we’re having,” she said.
MacDonald is the youngest competitor in the world championship.
“It’s a little overwhelming but I haven’t had more fun in any regatta. Meeting all the people from the different countries, it’s just really cool,” she said.
She said sailing gives her a feeling that is hard to describe.
“We have always lived by the water so whenever I’m on the water, I’m happy. It’s just something about being in a boat and dealing with the wind, it just makes me happy,” she said.
Competitors have come from Russia, Norway, Finland, the United States, Japan and even from as far away as Australia.
David Flaherty and Jim Kerr are members of the U.S. Virgin Islands Paralympic Sailing Team.
Flaherty is paralyzed on his right side after a stroke five years ago while Kerr, 74, is blind.
The men both said they are still in shock they are at the world championships.
“It means a lot. It’s satisfaction,” said Flaherty. The captain said he had to re-learn many sailing tactics after his stroke.
“You just have to slow down. Your capabilities are off,” he said.
But his teammate Kerr said he thinks his disability is actually to the team’s advantage.
“Listening to everybody brings a whole new aspect of vision for the sport of sailing,” he said.
“Sailing is such a fair sport. There’s so much that can be done, even by a blind person. I knew there had been a change in me but no change in that great world out there.”
Racing starts Tuesday and runs until Sunday.