Teen Puts Wind in the Sails of Physically Challenged Kids

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There aren’t many experiences as exhilarating as flying across the water in a sailboat, feeling the wind and the spray in your face.  Some teens with challenging physical conditions have been able to do that this summer in a special adaptive sailing program.  And this week’s Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever has helped make it happen for them.

The excitement was soaring as kids got into their life jackets for a beautiful afternoon of sailing at Weatherby Lake.  And then it was onto the boats for their first ever sailing experience.  It’s a big thrill for anyone and especially for these teens with various mobility challenges who get treatment at the Rehabilitation Institute of Kansas City and are doing special recreational activities this summer.  But it wasn’t just the kids who were excited.  Sailboat skippers from the Weatherby Lake Yacht Club were pretty charged up about this, too.

“Weatherby Lake has more volunteers per capita than any place on the planet,” says Weatherby Lake Yacht Club leader Ray Staton with a big smile.  “And so any time there’s anything involved with the water, we want to be involved.  So when Zach came up with this idea, we thought it was wonderful.”

That would be 17 year old Zach Stevenson.  Zach lives at the lake and is an avid sailor.  And a chance encounter on a ski lift over the winter with Tom Sanders of the National Sports Center for the Disabled had Zach racing to the Yacht Club for volunteers to help him launch this important project.

“He started talking to me about this idea he had for an adaptive sailing program,” says Zach about his conversation with Sanders.  “He heard we had a sailing program here.  He asked if we could run it and I said sure.”

“Without Zach, the Yacht Club here, we couldn’t do this,” says Sanders.  “The resources are very limited.  It’s great Zach could get the ball rolling to make the connections to allow us to put this program together here today.”

“I said ‘yes’ because I thought it sounded like a really cool deal,” says Zach.  “I think probably the best thing that they could take away from this is that they can do anything that people without their conditions can do.  They can sail.”  And here’s the proof from two of the young participants.

“It was amazing,” says Lizzy Smith.  “I didn’t believe I would sail, but I did!”

“Like unbelievable,” says Bobby Kirkendall.  “To be out there on the water, going fast.  Awesome!”  Zach really knows his stuff about sailing. He’s been doing it since he was 10 years old and he’s in his third summer as an instructor in the Junior Sailing Program at Weatherby Lake.

“We really like just getting people interested in the sport,” says Zach, who is the first one to emphasize that he got tons of help from the the Yacht Club volunteers to launch this adaptive sailing program.

“I took it to all the guys here and they really welcomed it,” says Zach.  “And I couldn’t have done it without them.  They made it what it is today.  And also, Greg Carlile, who took it over for me when I thought I was going to (a national sailboat race in Oklahoma.)”

But the adult volunteers say it would never have happened at all without Zach and his enthusiasm and his determination to see these kids enjoy sailing as much as he does.

Zach had never done any volunteer projects for people with disabilities before.  Now he’s hooked and eager to open up more opportunities for them — in sailing and much more.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments.  In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism.  Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.



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