Adaptive Sailing Program Empowers People With Disabilities

“Nuking” — it’s the term sailors use to describe raging wind gusts on the water and the conditions were just that during Bridget Bodo’s race. The six-months-pregnant sailor kept a steady hand on the tiller and focused on the fluorescent orange mark floating in the water. She didn’t win — this time. A few years later, Bodo sailed her crew to a first-place finish at the North American Challenge Cup, a major disabled sailing regatta.

Bodo has become an avid competitive sailor thanks to the Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Program, a Chicago-based foundation focused on empowering people with disabilities to sail. After losing the lower part of her leg at age 27, a chance encounter with the program’s founder, Peter Goldman, opened Bodo to the therapeutic benefits of sailing.

“When I first lost my leg, I didn’t really know where my life was going,” says Bodo. “But I was ready to try something.” The following summer, the first-time sailor began taking lessons with the JGASP-trained instructors through the Chicago Park District.

“My pain was intense in the beginning [after losing my leg],” Bodo recalls. “But sailing keeps you on your toes … There are so many other factors as to why a boat may be going faster than you and that’s what I focus on.”

The program uses specially designed boats called Freedom 20s when teaching participants. Transfer benches allow participants to slide themselves from the dock into the boat while swivel chairs, safety straps and the layout of sail lines empower people with disabilities to control the vessel.

“The object is not to take [participants] for a cruise,” Goldman says. “It is to have them actually be an active crew member.”

Goldman founded the program along with his mother, Sliv, and sister Judy in 1990 after his father and the foundation’s namesake, Judd, passed away. The late Goldman had suffered a disabling bone infection in his teens that resulted in the shortening of his leg. With his athletic opportunities limited, Goldman turned to sailing.

Now 25 years later, the program operates in two locations — Burnham Harbor and Lake Forest — with a fleet consisting of eight Freedom 20s for lessons, and eight Sonars and four 2.4-meter sailboats for races.

“We get a tremendous amount of people who say [the program] is the highlight of their summer,” says Joey Harris, manager of sailing for the Chicago Park District. “It’s just a fantastic thing to have access to.”

The Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Program hosts open houses in the spring and a fundraising gala in August. Visit the organization’s website for more information.

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