Paraplegic yachtsman finds freedom through Sailors with disabilities
by Polly Taylor on 31 Oct 2013
It takes immense bravery and determination to sail non-stop, unassisted around the world. What if you’re also paraplegic? And what if you decide to build your own boat? Are you staring down the barrel of the impossible?
Vinny Lauwers - Paraplegic Sydney to Hobart yachtsman Polly Job
Seemingly not for one gutsy Australian, Vinny Lauwers. After an abusive childhood and a motorbike accident no-one thought he would survive Vinny found himself confined to a wheelchair. Sailing was Vinny’s escape – heading away from shore with the wind blowing through his hair he discovered the freedom many sailors before him have relished.
The voyage to sailing around the world started over a bottle or two of red wine with a number of the founder members of Australian Charity Sailors with disabilities (SWD).
The chat ended in the decision to enter the 1994 Rolex Sydney to Hobart race with a disabled crew. Lots of people thought they were crazy… and lots of people were proved wrong. The SWD team successfully conquered the might of Bass Strait and found a new sense of pride as they discovered who they were along the way. (And just for the record SWD are still competing in the race)
Over the coming years Vinny sailed regularly with SWD building his knowledge and skill and clocking up the miles he needed to achieve his dream.
In the words of SWD founder David Pescud
'Vinny came on board with some knowledge of boating and yachting. It was an absolute pleasure to help him reach the next level. Vinny was like a sponge - we couldn’t feed him information fast enough. And throughout the steep learning curve and rough seas, Vinny was a wonderful shipmate – a great person to have in your team.
I will always remember one Mooloolaba to Airlie beach race, coming on deck with the Adams 15 flying down a wave at 15 knots, and Vinny at the wheel grinning from ear to ear - a natural borne yachtsman totally in his element!'
Vinny was named the World Disabled Sportsperson of the Year 2001 after he became the first paraplegic to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world.
The journey took 233 days. Unbelievably Vinny broke his back again during one incident. It took incredibly strength to dig deep and keep going through that.
In Vinny’s words
'I never thought I couldn’t make it… but I did have to ask when things went wrong is someone going to have to risk their life to come out to get me?
Sailing round the world experience allowed me to come to terms with myself and put life into perspective. The troubles of the world and everyday life in society faded away. I am incredibly grateful to Sailors with disabilities for passing on their knowledge and inspiring me to believe I could do it'
Vinny Lauwers is now a successful motivational speaker who encourages people not to be defined by what they can’t do but what they can.
Sailors with disabilities have launched an innovative fundraiser for this year’s Sydney to Hobart yacht race. The Faceboat website (http://www.faceboat.org.au/) allows members of the public to upload a photo of themselves or a loved one to the site which will then be printed on the side of their Sydney to Hobart racing yacht.
For more information please See the Sailors with disability website
And for more information on Faceboat please see - Faceboat Website