- Associated Press - Monday, September 28, 2015

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Sailor Scott Ford can feel the wind whip through his hair, the sun warm his face and the waves push his boat; what he can’t do is see the water around him.

“I really don’t have any usable vision,” he told the Traverse City Record-Eagle ( https://bit.ly/1FNefe4 ). “I can see shadows and shapes and I can probably trick you for about 30 seconds, longer if I’m on a boat.”

But Ford, 46, of Traverse City, doesn’t let his blindness stop him from sailing. His team of four recently finished competing in the 2015 Blind World & International Championship in Chicago, where his team took fourth place against 14 other blind and visually impaired teams from around the world.

“I find it very exhilarating to be on the water, to be driving the boat, to know that I have control of my destiny,” he said.

Ford wasn’t born blind. The disability came after he received a vaccine while working as a construction mechanic in the U.S. Navy, where he served as a Seabee from 1988 to 1995.

“It reacted with me. Something like two-tenths of 1 percent have some kind of reaction,” he said. “It’s really minor. Billions of people get the vaccine.”

Ford still longed to be part of a team after he left the military but worried his deteriorating vision would limit his options.

He found sailing in 2007 after he moved to Traverse City with his wife, Leanne, and it clicked. He joined the Maritime Heritage Alliance, and officials there introduced him to the Warrior Sailing Program, which teaches the sport to injured or disabled military veterans.

“Being able to be an essential part of a team or a crew is what really inspires me,” Ford said. “Honestly, I think that inspires a lot of military guys to want to do this. It lets you have that feeling of accomplishment in working with a group again.”

Maneuvering on the water isn’t easy when you can’t see, so Ford puts his trust in his teammates with vision. He competes with another blind athlete and two with sharp vision.

“Obviously I can’t see anything, so he has to give me a lot of feedback as to the point of sail and for the fine tunes,” he said. “He has to be able to verbally explain, especially if we’re going to be coming up on another boat.”

The sport keeps him physically fit and mentally sharp, but it’s given him some peace as well.

“Sailing is very therapeutic in and of itself,” Ford said. “It naturally opens up conversation. It’s pretty incredible.”


Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle, https://www.record-eagle.com

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