Monday, November 22, 2010

It Is Never Too Late To Re-Create Yourself

Rich Ramos back at home on the water.
Photo by Kitty Mears.
I first met Richard Ramos a year ago at our first REC Connect Power Chairs On Ice program. Rich came nearly every month through spring 2010 and joined us on the ice again this month in Revere for our second season. I was intrigued to discover at that recent program that Rich has been expanding his recreation activities, so I called him up to find out more.
Rich grew up on Nantucket, infused by the sea, and developed an early love of sailing ships and birds, two things that represent freedom to him. "I was in love with nature", he said with ease, "and had a deep intimate connection to bogs, ponds and the seashore." When he was 12, he learned to sail, and got a boat for his birthday. When he was 16, he broke his neck.

His love of the outdoors and memories of an Outward Bound experience in Utah completed just a few months before his accident helped sustain him through his recovery. Still, he felt profoundly disconnected from doing what he loved.

"I retreated into my head," Rich told me, "and looked at my body as a useless appendage from the neck down." He spent all his time indoors reading, studying biology, and exploring mental realms.

"It became harder and harder to get out and do things. I became more and more socially isolated. I was not engaging with the world. Late at night I'd lie in bed, and like most of us with spinal cord injuries, I'd ask myself 'what if, what if?' What would I be doing if I hadn't broken my neck? And always, always, the answer was sailing."

Interestingly, Richard first heard about adaptive sailing when he was in college, but some time passed before he signed up for a 6 week summer course with Shake-A-Leg in Newport, RI. Then, an 8 week illness prevented him from going. He let go of trying to sail and kept reading. Chronic pain from a shoulder injury sustained 9 years ago continued to decrease his activity and add to his isolation. "Finally I realized I wasn't getting anywhere. I really hit a wall. Something had to change."

Rich started volunteering at Spaulding Rehab Hospital in Boston. There, during an adaptive sports demo in 2008, he met Maureen McKinnon-Tucker of Piers Park Sailing. He began to consider the possibility of sailing again. Time passed. He got a remote controlled model sailboat and sailed with the Minuteman Model Yacht Club in Needham. Then a friend called him up to tell him that a sip-and-puff sailboat had been set up at Piers Park. "I had no idea," said Rich, "that such technology existed." He decided that in the spring of 2010, he would start sailing at Piers Park. To get a jump start, he went sailing with Shake-A-Leg in Miami, Florida over the winter. Though it was too windy for him to steer the vessel much, he went out a few times and at last, after 31 years, he was sailing again.

Rich sailing in the Around the Islands race in
Boston Harbor this year. Photo by Phil Dirkse.
Rich sailed with Piers Park this year, and I'm sure he will next year too, but he isn't stopping there. He is planning a campaign to start racing sailboats and has Paralympic ambitions. He is interested in downhill skiing this winter, wants to try dogsledding, and has sights on Scuba diving too.
Money is a challenge, and Rich relies on public transportation, so HUGE kudos to you Rich, for finding your way back to the great outdoors and embracing your dreams!! Your journey reminds us that it is never too late to open the door and venture outside. Thank you!

If you live in Boston, Worcester, or Holyoke, Massachusetts, and are looking to get involved in adaptive recreation, consider coming to a REC Connect adaptive skating program this winter to play on the ice and find out more about possibilities for all activities.

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