My life revolved around my health and physio. On that boat I found a new sense of confidence in my own abilities. Sailing showed me there was a sport where you didn’t have to be the strongest and fastest
Never let the fear of doing something stop you
For George, life without sailing would probably be quite boring. He may not be able to run around, but he can do what he wants to do and be very independent on the water.
After twice surviving bone cancer, and having an amputation, sailing has given him his life back.
George’s sailing story started in 2006 when a tumour was discovered in his left thighbone (femur).
Months of gruelling, life-saving treatment, surgery and physio followed as bone was cut from his fibula – the long, thin bone in the lower leg – and inserted where the tumour had invaded his thigh. He started secondary school wearing a leg brace.
George was alive and could walk again but, as someone who loved and had played a lot of football before his diagnosis, he was now frustrated at falling behind his friends, and not being able to play at the same level as before. PE, particularly cross-country, was difficult, and he lost confidence in what he was capable of.
Going sailing with the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust – the charity set-up by the history-making yachtswoman to support young people in rebuilding their confidence after cancer - in 2009 proved the turning point in George’s young life. “I spent a week doing things where I didn’t feel limited in my ability – it was nice doing something positive and being on the water was therapeutic".
He went sailing every year, sometimes as a volunteer. But then came another twist. A couple of years ago his leg became week and it fractured. An above knee amputation followed. He should have been enjoying his independence with his friends as a carefree young man at University. Instead he was in hospital, reliant on a wheelchair. He became introverted.
One day it all got too much. He missed his independence. He wanted to be sailing again. So, his mum, Christine, Googled ‘disability sailing’. Whitefriars came up as his most local site. Sailing was about to prove his salvation for a second time.
“To start with I wasn’t sure. I didn’t want to be shoved in a different category, I wanted to be sailing ‘normal’ boats. But I went for a taster and it was just such a nice feeling to be back in a boat again. There wasn’t a vast amount of wind but I was independent of my wheelchair and other people and could do what I wanted to do.
“Before long I’d gone from sailing for an hour on Wednesday evening to spending the whole day at the club. Wednesdays became my day free from physio and hospital appointments. The independence and freedom being in a boat gave me was a world away from the dependency I’d had in hospital. It was truly priceless.”
It’s always a laugh, its sociable and sailing is a calm sport so George can get on the water and forget about the worries of day to day life – getting around, the hospital appointments.
George reckons he has made the majority of his friends through sailing and loves sailing as part of a team.
“Sailing is amazing to me because I am able to be more independent, I can be sociable, and I can be competitive".
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Sailing is open to everyone. Regardless of age or ability, it’s a level playing field out on the water and the opportunities to get involved are ever evolving. Find out about some of the boats involved