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Marine Resource 2016

Born to Sail – The story of Eric Berkey and Challenged America

by Marshall Lubin on 10 Jun 2013
Eric’s story - Born to Sail Challenged America
Fortunately enough for him, Eric Berkey, inspirational quadriplegic, was born to parents that had boating in their blood. Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, his family spent summers and holidays boating on a small lake that branches off Lake Huron in northern Michigan. In his youth, Eric notes, 'I spent time on boats of all shapes and sizes.' Falling in love with the outdoors and jazzed by his connection with the sea, he took the captain's exam at the age of 19 and received his first Coast Guard license. He followed that accreditation with a scuba instructor certification, became a certified EMT, and then a ski patrolman. Not yet tired with exams, Eric completed numerous mountain rescue and wilderness first-aid courses. With an undeniable love of nature, Eric headed west to Boulder, Colorado where he enrolled in the University of Colorado at Boulder. Studying Environmental Conservation, Eric found the perfect niche to fulfill his thirst for communing with the natural world. Now both a knowledgeable and educated outdoorsman, Eric volunteered for the Boulder Emergency Squad, an all-volunteer mountain and river rescue team. Having completed his studies in the Rockies, Eric headed west to San Diego where his dad had settled in the early nineties. Arriving on the west coast, he was thrilled to fall into a job that was a dream come true. In 1997 he hired on as crew on a megayacht. Eric traveled during the next twelve months to the Caribbean, Central America and Europe on the 150' motor vessel. After that year of travel, Eric returned to San Diego and added an MBA to his growing sail bag of accomplishments. Finishing yet another school, he returned to the sea to skipper dive boats in Mission Bay for a few years. He then worked at Mikelson Yachts where he was a project manager, commissioning new yachts, performing vessel deliveries, and teaching new owners how to operate their boats. Eventually, Eric came to serve as the captain of two private sport fishing boats, a sixty eight and eighty footer. Unfortunately, tragedy struck in 2011 when Eric tripped over a fuel line and fell off the back of the family boat. Had the boat been secured in a slip in the water there would have been no harm done (I've fallen off my boat at least twice). But the boat was on a trailer and Eric's uncontrolled fall caused him to hit the unyielding ground, head first. Suffering a C5-6 contusion to the spinal cord, Eric was left a quadriplegic restricted to a motorized wheelchair. 'The response and support from my family and friends throughout this major life change has been absolutely humbling! One of the biggest challenges of adapting to life as a quadriplegic has been the shift from being fiercely independent to completely reliant on the assistance of others.' Fortunately, Eric was a friend of Dave Meyers who then introduced him to Challenged America (CA) in November of 2011. Eric went for his 1st Martin sail on his 40th birthday. He was thrilled to be back on the water after his lengthy absence. CA allowed Eric to reconnect with the sea, as it does all of us. He states, 'I can't adequately thank the CA organization, especially the volunteers who make it happen! As I've said before, the closest I come to feeling normal is when I'm at the helm of the Martin 16.' You can see Eric sailing a Martin 16 whenever there's a regatta and he was in attendance at the DASH to Chula Vista, finishing in third place with his brother Joseph as companion. Having been a long time diver and fisherman Eric would enjoy seeing the Grand Banks modifications completed and doing some fishing from her stern. I think many others would enjoy joining Eric on those fishing trips. Perhaps we could have a barbecue with their catch? Eric has a suggestion for those not yet involved: 'Take up a cause! (Challenged America is a great cause.) The fact that my injury didn't kill me tells me I'm here for a reason. I believe we're supposed to leave this world better than we found it. This doesn't mean you have to cure cancer or end world hunger...I think a good starting point is simply being good to others.' Amen, Eric! Challenged America website
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