When someone suffers a spinal cord injury or illness that requires use of a wheelchair, it can be hard to adjust to the limitations of one’s new life. Heather Wood, coordinator for the Greater Boston Chapter of the United Spinal Association and herself a user of a wheelchair, says that often, “a chair becomes a big obstacle” for someone with a spinal cord injury, “when really it’s only a mental one. You can adapt almost anything.”
Even a catamaran. So when David Storto, president of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, got a call from the owners of the Charlestown Marina in Boston, letting him know that a wheelchair-accessible catamaran named the Impossible Dream was going to be docking at the marina, he met the owners and toured the boat. The sailboat is housed with an organization called Shake-A-Leg, an adaptive community sailing group based in Miami and had traveled to Boston from Florida. The Shake-A-Leg group toured the hospital as well, and in the summer of 2016, they took a group of patients out on the water.
“What made the vessel and trip so special was that our patients got to have an experience that helped them truly see that there are so many possibilities for them to enjoy an active life once they leave Spaulding,” says Ashley Cataldo, a recreation therapist with Spaulding. Many patients were avid boating enthusiasts before their injury, so for them to be able to get out on the water was particularly poignant. “Some of the patients got to drive the boat, which they loved,” says Cataldo. “Everyone on the ship couldn’t help but feel the joy the Impossible Dream brought.”
The experience was so positive and successful that Shake-A-Leg returned to the Charlestown Marina this summer for Sail Boston, a weeklong event in June when the Tall Ships are in Boston Harbor. The Impossible Dream participated in the Grand Parade of Sail, when the Tall Ships sail in a flotilla along the harbor. And while the catamaran was nearby, they took out groups of Spaulding and United Spinal patients as well as the residents working in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Spaulding, one of whom is a wheelchair user himself. All told, roughly 50 wheelchair users got to take a scenic ride on the Impossible Dream.
Wood appreciated the opportunity to get out on the water. “It was really an awesome experience,” she says. “It’s something you don’t think necessarily will happen once you’re in a chair. You think, how could I possibly get out on the water again?” She enjoyed seeing patients from United Spinal smile as they enjoyed their time out on the water. “I think it gave them a little break from their everyday hospital routine,” she says. “And it opened up their eyes to what other things they might be able to do as well.”