Sunday, November 10, 2013

Cindy Walker's Paralympic Journey Towards Rio

Photo courtesy of U.S. Sailing.

met Cindy Walker when she came to one of our ice skating programs last year and have been marveling at her journey ever since. 

Thanks Cindy for your Guest Post on what it is like to train as a Paralympic athlete! 

Best of luck on your way to Rio! 

Readers can support Cindy's journey at

      Sailing for me started as a hobby and has become a passion. In my eyes sailing is one of the only sports where everyone, can take part, unless you’re afraid of the water.  I have truly become a sailor at heart. Whether I’m racing or on the water with my family and friends I’m at peace. 
The first thing that comes to mind about being a Paralympic sailor might be sacrifice, but at the end of the day I whole heartedly enjoy what I do, so in hindsight I’m not sacrificing anything because there isn’t anything I’d rather be doing with my life. I am on the “Road to Rio” aka, training and competing for the next 3 years in the hopes of representing the U.S. at the 2016 summer Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

To compete at this level my first priorities have to be practicing with my team, racing against the best national and international competitors, strength and conditioning training with my trainer, following a strict nutritional program, and fundraising to help us pay for a new boat, regatta entrance fees, travel expenses, boat transport fees, and all the miscellaneous boat maintenance expenses that always pop-up. 
My skipper and teammate, Ryan Porteous, and I race the SKUD 18, a two-person keelboat, and are currently the 1st place SKUD 18 team on the 2013 US Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider. Every year we must requalify to make it back on the Sailing Team. Being on the Team is so important because there is some financial assistance given to the top teams from the United States Olympic Committee and the US Olympic Sailing Organization. To make it on the 2014 US Sailing Sperry Top-Sider we’ll have to race in January at the 2014 ISAF Sailing World Cup in Miami, FL. Ryan and I will have one more on-the-water training event this year to help us mentally and physically prepare for the race in January.
Ryan and Cindy off the coast of Ireland.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Sailing
We are both lucky enough to have really strong support systems behind us that are helping us organize, publicize, and fund our ambitious goal of medalling in Rio. Family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers have come forward to volunteer rides to and from the airport, website & brochure designs, fundraising planning and events, corporate sponsorship (Thank you Bridge-To-Fitness in Middletown, RI), and free publicity. There are so many moving parts to running a Paralympic campaign that if it were not for everyone involved, Ryan and I would not be able to make this happen. 
All the sailors on the Paralympic team must have some type of a disability. Ryan and I both have spinal cord injuries. My level of paralysis is at T8 and affects everything below that level. I have little-to-no feeling from about an inch above my belly button down. I walk with a crutch and AFOs on both legs, and use my wheelchair for distance and endurance. I was paralyzed in 1995 due to Transverse Myelitis, an auto-immune disease that causes inflammation within the spinal cord.
Ryan is a C7 incomplete quad due to falling off a boat pier back in the fall of 2010. He has some feeling from the neck down, but very little movement. He uses a manual wheelchair and can stand and walk short distances using a walker. 
Some of the other sailors on the Paralympic Team also have spinal cord injuries and some of them have amputated limbs and nerve damage. In order to sail at the Paralympic level every sailor must be classified based on his or her disability, there cannot be any "able-bodied" sailors on the boat. For physical disabilities sailors are rated on a scale from 1-7, 1 being most disabled and 7 being minimally disabled. 
For visually impaired sailors there are 3 categories sailors classify into, Sport Class B1, Sport Class B2, and Sport Class B3. As far as I know there are not any classification levels for sailors that are deaf or have a cognitive disability. The classification exams are conducted by trained, US Sailing Classifiers and classification takes place at several disabled regattas across the country throughout the year. 
Each Paralympic class boat has requirements on the levels and pairings of disabled sailors to ensure fairness in the fleets. In order to race in the SKUD 18 fleet the skipper must be classified as a 1 or a 2 and there has to be at least 1 female aboard. The crew person can be classified at any level. To race in the Sonar (the 3-person class) the cumulative points of the sailors cannot exceed 14. To race in the 2.4m (the 1-person class) the sailor can fall anywhere on the 1-7 scale and can be either gender.
I coincidentally work for US Sailing, the National Governing Body for the sport in the United States. On a daily basis I am able to work with our membership base and Adaptive Sailing programs and participants, to help spread and foster the love of this sport. Sailing is immensely important to me so I really get it when someone calls or emails and wants to learn more about the sport. I see sailing as an all-inclusive sport with so many facets: day sailing, team racing, distance sailing, and even sailing exploration. There are also so many different types of sailboats : day sailing, racing, and long distance cruising. 
If you’d like to learn more about my team and what we’re accomplishing please check out our website:

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