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Paralympians take flight with Switzerland SailGP Team

by World Sailing 4 Aug 2022 08:50 PDT 30-31 July 2022
Bjornar Erikstad (NOR), sailing Paralympian, reacts on the Switzerland SailGP Team chase boat after joining the Switzerland SailGP Team onboard their F50 as a sixth sailor during a practice session ahead of the Great Britain Sail Grand Prix © David Gray for SailGP

Three Paralympic athletes were invited to the Great Britain SailGP Grand Prix in Plymouth last weekend to join the Switzerland SailGP Team and their Race for the Future partner, Stiftelsen VI, to experience sailing onboard the speediest raceboats in the sport.

The world's fastest Paralympian, gold medallist and world record holder sprinter, Salum Kashafali (NOR), four-time Paralympian and five-time world champion sailing medallist, Bjørnar Erikstad (NOR), and Britain's four-time Paralympian and three-time World Champion sailor, Hannah Stodel, all experienced foiling for the first time as they sailed onboard the Swiss F50 on Plymouth's Sound.

The Paralympians were invited by the team and Stifelsen VI [the VI Foundation], an organisation based in Norway, which champions equal opportunities to achieve. Together they are promoting the important call to action asking competitors and fans to #BacktheBid as part of World Sailing's campaign to see the sport of sailing reinstated in the Paralympic Games for LA28.

Bjørnar Erikstad, who was born with TAR syndrome, is CEO of VI Foundation. "The VI Foundation utilises sports to show that disabled people are able to do a lot of things, that's our mission to show equal opportunities to achieve, and we use sports a lot because sport is crucial for many people. People with disabilities can be a part of society, but if society wants them to be," he commented.

The Swiss team is racing in SailGP's global league for purpose, supporting its main and Race for the Future partner, Stiftelsen VI, to champion equal opportunities to achieve.

Erikstand continued: "What we hope to achieve from our partnership with the Swiss SailGP Team is to show that everything is possible. Sailing is a great sport, it is a very inclusive sport, and if everyone has the right mindset, you can go for a sail onboard a F50! Our SailGP sailing experience was an amazing moment for us all. It's so exciting onboard, especially in the turns, you can feel the g-force. It was super cool and I will never forget it!"

Salum Kashafali was diagnosed at 12 years old with Stargardt disease which causes a loss of central vision. Having previously competed as an able-bodied athlete in 2011 he made the decision to switch to Para athletics in 2018 when he was struggling with a hamstring injury and his eyesight deteriorated. After being officially classified as a Para athlete in 2019, he then entered his first Paralympic games in Tokyo in 2020. With determination and mindset, Kashafali says: "Everything is possible. It doesn't matter if you cannot see or cannot walk, you can always do something. Get up and train and do enough to succeed."

Kashafali is used to sprinting at speeds of 40 km/h plus. While onboard with the Switzerland SailGP Team he was reaching speeds of 60 km/h.

"It was a lot of fun on the F50! It was awesome, I really enjoyed it. We all feel very lucky to sail with the team. It was a little bit faster than I usually run... but for sure I will take that!" he laughed.

British sailing Paralympian, Hannah Stodel, was born with Dysmeli. She's raced at four Paralympic Games, including a home event at London 2012 in the Sonar class, and now has ambitions for a Vendée Globe campaign, racing round the world, solo, non-stop and without assistance.

"I had an amazing time with the team in Plymouth," she commented. "I even got an opportunity to drive the boat, thanks to Seb [Sébastien Schneider, the skipper]! Listening to the team communicate and interact onboard was unreal. It's been really special."

While the Paralympians were sailing onboard the F50, the huge public crowd in Plymouth were also supporting the #BacktheBid campaign, signing a four-sided board with their messages. The response has been so phenomenal that a new board has been ordered to take to Copenhagen, Denmark for the next stopover on the global SailGP circuit.

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