Sail Away To Freedom

In Sports, Wheelin' and Dealin' by Nathasha Alvarez

Paul, former physical education instructor, traveled from the northeast to attend this event.

Thursday night in Coconut Grove, Florida, about 20 people gathered on the third floor of Shake A Leg’s beautiful headquarters.

Despite the cold weather and threats of rain, everyone was excited about the weekend’s regatta hosted by Shake A Leg. Two young women, Cara and Amy travelled from Ireland to race in the regatta. Amy, 30, said she tries to attend as many events around the world as she can because sailing gives her a different freedom that her wheelchair can’t provide.

Bridget, an amputee due to a motorcycle accident, is a newbie from Chicago. She loves sailing and getting the opportunity to mingle with others who share her interest.

I am not a sports writer so I can’t even begin to explain the events and how the race’s course was determined. Trust me, I asked everyone questions and still I couldn’t get it.

But I did get something much more powerful. The purpose for the regatta and the purpose for Shake A Leg.

A tremendous transformation has occurred with the Shake A Leg program in the last 10 years. I know. I sailed with them once in 1995.

Back then, its focus was to train the disabled community on how to sail in one of their sailboats with a keel that weighs over 2000 pounds preventing the 20 foot boat from capsizing. Huge relief for me back then.

This past Saturday my fears of capsizing appeared silly and immature as I witnessed young teenagers like a handsome 14 year old named Diego with Spina Bifida and a bright 21 year old with Cerebral Palsy named Anthony, maneuver the smaller sailboats in the bay.

Young sailors relax after the race.

Anthony has been sailing since 1997. Although his Cerebral Palsy makes it difficult for him to speak and type, the smile on his face speaks volumes about his appreciation for the Shake A Leg Miami program and the people involved in the program.

Ed Benitez eagerly introduced me to Diego and Anthony as well as every other person at the event well over 100 people. Ed was the able bodied person who sailed with two disabled people. According the rules, there needs to be one able bodied person and two disabled people in each boat.

Ed constantly praised the program and the participants. According to him, “Every person has a story to share about their experience with Shake A Leg”.

Ed was not the only amicable face in the sea of crowds. Ned, the friendly self-appointed historian for the program and the bay, entertained me throughout the early afternoon with amusing anecdotes. Mrs. Johnson was filled with information about Shake a Leg’s after school program that helps mentor children.

Everyone there greets you as if you were an old friend returning from a long voyage. Harry credits the people’s enthusiasm as the key to the program’s success.

Amazingly enough, this all began with Harry Horgan in Rhode Island. Harry started Shake A Leg after an accident left him with a spinal cord injury. He refused to allow his physical condition to hinder his relationship with the sea.

Later on, Harry made Shake A Leg Miami along with the assistance of the City of Miami which allows the program to form its headquarters in the Coast Guard’s former builing. One of his aspirations is to use Shake a Leg as a model in building business relationships between the public and private sector.

Finding time to speak with Harry was my biggest obstacle. His calm demeanor was an obvious asset as everyone seemed to want his attention.

What started out as a sailing program for physically disabled people has turned into an umbrella for various programs to suit the needs of people with various disabilities and economical situations.

Shake A Leg means freedom from the wheelchair.

Harry hopes that five years from now his program can be the gateway for others who want to build their confidence, find their freedom and launch their dreams.

If you notice I rarely spoke about the actual sailing procedures. Sailing was the event but the reward was the interaction among the people who have one common goal: to launch their dreams, build their confidence and find their freedom.

I left with a connection to nature, my community, and myself.

Giving thanks was not enough so from now on Audacity Magazine will have exclusive features about future events from Shake A Leg Miami and other sailing programs around the around.

Thank you, Harry. I predict smooth sailing for many years.

Harry watches the race and envisions the future of Shake A Leg Miami.

I urge all of you to click on the link to explore Shake A Leg’s website and read April’s issue of Audacity to know about the history of Shake A Leg.

If you have any questions please feel free to email me at or join the message board at the Online Forum.