Sailfeed
February 2nd

maureen1Photo © Xinhua

Nominations are open now and through May 31 for the National Sailing Hall of Fame, class of 2014. My pick is no secret.

What Nick Scandone did was unique.

Even by the standards of world competition.

Even by “normal” standards of overcoming adversity.

Statistically, Nick should have been dead of ALS years before he won his Paralympic gold medal in Qingdao. For six years beyond a diagnosis of severe, progressive, irreversible, fatal neurodegeneration, he kept himself going, just barely, and just barely long enough to fulfill a dream that had begun when it was the Olympics, not the Paralympics, that called him. He redefined ALS as A Love of Sailing and declared, “It’s keeping me alive.”

Nick Scandone inspired a lot of people, whole-bodied and un.

I am proud that my sport has embraced disabled sailing. We have one of the few sports where good brains guiding severely limited bodies can be set free to play in fresh air and sunshine, and to compete if that’s their thing. Nick was a UC Irvine (go, Anteaters) All American and an Olympic-caliber sailor who barely missed making the team in 1992. He worried that it was a sympathy vote that made him the Rolex US Sailor of the Year in 2005, the year he won the 2.4mR worlds against able bodied sailors. But no, Nick, it was not that. By the time Nick got to Qingdao—and just traveling there took a toll—he often needed a feeding tube. There wasn’t much of him left except spirit. After racing each day, and usually winning, he was rushed by his helpmeets, via wheelchair, to a bed where he mostly slept until it was time to race again. Given the points total, he didn’t have to sail on the final day, but he did, to put his stamp on his medal in his moment.

Speaking of spirit, I don’t know a more spirited, inspiring group of sailors than the disabled bunch, whether I see them at BAADS (Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors, San Francisco) or at the Piers Park Sailing Center in Boston, where Maureen McKinnon has left an indelible stamp and where a young man looked me in the eye and said, “I was in trouble. This place saved my life.”

And while we’re at it, Maureen made her own sacrifices in a terribly difficult time (among other things, a young son diagnosed with cancer; she sailed with a lock of little Trent’s hair in the pocket of her life jacket) but Maureen, paraplegic but irrepressible, was there to support Nick, crew for him in the SKUD 18, and also to become—

The first woman to represent the USA in Paralympic sailing. And to win her gold medal.

The National Sailing Hall of Fame inducts a limited number of people each year, and I understand they have a backlog of worthies. I’m sure they’ll get to Nick. I hope it’s soon.

And Maureen wouldn’t exactly be wrong . . .

maureen2Photo © Dan Tucker

FROM PALTRY BEGINNINGS in 1960 the Paralympic Games in China in 2008 attracted nearly 4,000 athletes from 146 countries. Nick Scandone returned home from China too weak to accept an invitation to the White House, but he held on to have a few more months with his wife, Mary Kate, in their home in Southern California. This was my report:

January 2, 2009

There’s a saying in aviation, a code of honor:
Fly it all the way to the scene of the crash.

Nick Scandone was no pilot, but surely no one ever lived out such a creed more fully.

Nick died in the early hours today, an event entirely foreseen and unavoidable. He had ALS, which cripples and then kills. What Nick did with his ALS, however, was set an example of how to live. First he set a goal, to win a Paralympic gold medal. Then he succeeded.

Around him, his friends fretted that maybe he could hold on long enough to win the US Trials but not long enough to actually race in the Games at Qingdao. Or he might make it to China but never make it back. And so on. The one who never fretted, at least so’s you could see it, was Nick Scandone. But truly, it was a race to the race.

Nick was diagnosed in 2002. Typically, people survive about three years after a diagnosis of ALS, which meant that Nick’s averages ran out in 2005. But of course he wasn’t aiming at anything average. 2005 was also the year that the former 470 North American champion won the open-division 2.4mR worlds and was voted Rolex Sailor of the Year in the USA. The gold medal race in China was another three years out. So you see how chancy this thing was, all along.

ALS progressively attacks the spine and brain. Come time for the 2008 Trials, Nick could no longer manage the singlehanded 2.4mR, and he teamed up in a SKUD 18 with paraplegic Maureen McKinnon-Tucker, combining “her physical ability and my mental ability.”

That phrase, “could no longer manage” conceals a nightmare-welter of developments that, frankly, you just don’t want to know about. The man was dying. The disease was gnawing at his every vital. Still, these two had gold medal written all over them, if.

So I held my breath, and I was not alone.

That “if” was resolved conclusively in Qingdao. The final score:
SKUD-18: 11 boats
1. Nick Scandone (Newport Beach, CA) and Maureen McKinnon (Marblehead, Mass) 2-1-1=1-3-2-7

The last time I saw Nick Scandone, the US Paralympic Team was passing through SFO en route to China for the Games. I drove to the airport to meet and greet and wish them well. I wrote at the time that Nick’s handshake was weak, but the eyes were bright. Those who were with him to the end say that he never stopped being a giver.

As for this shot of Nick and Maureen, I blew the focus, but the spirit is clear. And I was a bit misty anyway, so this is kinda sorta how it really looked . . .

PARALYMPIC_SAILORS_DEPART_044

Mary Kate Scandone in 2013 published Nick’s story in book form, Nick of Time.

The National Sailing Hall of Fame is specific about how to nominate a sailor. Stuffing the “mailbox” is not a gainer, they say. To learn how to enter a nomination just click here—Kimball

This article was syndicated from BLUE PLANET TIMES

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