State’s Only Adaptive Sailing Program Allows Wheelchair Users, People with Disabilities to Get out on the Water

It’s a sunny June night in Traverse City, and a light breeze is coming off the dock at the Boardman Lake.

Conditions are just right for sailing.

At Traverse Area Community Sailing (TACS) at Hull Park, sailing instructors and volunteers are buzzing, and busy getting the boats ready for the first night of one of their summer programs.

Veteran sailing instructor Steve Rutkowski greets the novice sailors as they arrive. They’re excited for a night out on the water.

Rutkowski rolls up to the dock and into his boat.

He leaves his wheelchair behind.

Thursday marks the first night of TACS’ summer adaptive sailing program, the state’s only sailing experience for wheelchair users and people with disabilities.

For Rutkowski, it’s a joyous freedom and escape from some of life’s limitations on shore.

“What’s nice, is someone who might be disabled, now we’re on a level playing field with someone who’s able-bodied,” said Rutkowski. “We use the same skills, we can sail just as good as they can.”

Rutkowski was an avid sailor before a diving accident made him quadriplegic. He joined the adaptive sailing program when it started eight years ago.

“I didn’t sail for many years, I never thought I would,” said Rutkowski. “When this program started, I was the first one out on the boats, and you feel like you never forgot how to sail.”

On Thursday, Annie Paul, 30, of Traverse City got out on the water for the first time this summer.

She has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair and is non-verbal.

Her mother, Sue, says she tries to keep Annie busy but sometimes it’s a challenge.

“There’s not all that much set up in the community for someone like Annie,” said her mother, Sue. “[Sailing] is a great way to spend a summer evening. She can be on the water in another way of moving through space, because she’s a wheelchair user so she doesn’t have the opportunity to get around that much, it’s nice to have just one more way.”

TACS is still taking participants for their program.

They also need volunteers to help out.

For more information, visit https://www.tacsailing.org/adaptive-sailing.