- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2006

The 33rd annual Governor’s Cup Yacht Race began yesterday in Annapolis and for the first time included a Special Olympics athlete.

I’m very excited,” said Ben Collins, who lost his eyesight when he was 8 because of a genetic condition known as retinitis pigmentosa. “I hope we win.”

The overnight race, sponsored by St. Mary’s College in Southern Maryland, started at 6 p.m. in the Annapolis Harbor and will end today in St. Mary’s County between 3 a.m. and noon, depending upon the wind.

The first Governor’s Cup was held in 1974, after three St. Mary’s College students decided to create an overnight race from Annapolis to St. Mary’s City, Maryland’s first capital.

Mr. Collins, 39, of Rockville, said he never has been discouraged by his disability and that he has been in love with sailing since his Special Olympics coach introduced him to the sport.

Marc Apter, spokesman for St. Mary’s College, said Mr. Collins sailing in such a rigorous race for the first time will be like “taking off the training wheels.”

Mr. Collins will compete with 19 other crew members aboard the 74-foot-long Donnybrook, one of 148 privately owned yachts around the Chesapeake Bay region participating in the race.

Jim Muldoon, chairman of the Board of Trustees at St. Mary’s College and former president of the United States Sailing Association, is the captain of the Donnybrook. Mr. Muldoon said he had never met Mr. Collins before the race but heard he was a “pretty darn good sailor.”

“A lot of sailing is intuitive,” Mr. Muldoon said. “Ben cannot see, but he goes by other senses.”

Mr. Collins said he loves sailing because he likes “having fun and meeting other athletes.” He was the chairman of the Special Olympics Maryland Athlete Congress for two years and has won several Special Olympics sailing races.

St. Mary’s College of Maryland has worked with Special Olympics Maryland for more than 15 years, but this was the first time they were partners in this event.

“We think that the pairing of Special Olympics Maryland with other sailors will bring a new level of awareness to this event and the Special Olympics sailing program,” said Torre Meringolo, vice president for development of St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Mr. Muldoon said he would like the partnership to become a tradition.

“The college students are into helping others, and it really helps the Special Olympics athletes build self-confidence and believe they can do it,” he said.

Special Olympics sailors train regularly at the college’s facilities. The college hosts the annual Special Olympics Maryland Regatta and held the Special Olympics International World Games Regatta in 1999.

Profits from the race and silent auction will go to the Special Olympics, which provides year-round sports training and athletic competition to more than 2.25 million disabled people from around the world.

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