I’m so happy, I’ve got my fabulous back!
Sailing has been a lifeline for us
Millie, who is deafblind with lots of other complex challenges, had enjoyed several group sailing sessions, so when she was looking for a new activity and social opportunity she decided she wanted to learn to sail properly. She has now achieved her RYA Sailability Silver Award, immediately declaring
“I’m so happy, I’ve got my fabulous back!”
For Mum, it’s about a young woman discovering her independence and as she becomes an adult.
“To have a child that can’t see or hear danger, you immediately become overprotective,” Gail concedes.
“Millie is used to me always being with her, but she wants to live an independent life, so as she gets older there are things she has to get used to. So many aspects of sailing are valuable in teaching her those life lessons.”
Being deafblind means there are often huge barriers to her learning new skills, including balance. But being on the water, balance is not so much of an issue, immediately making Millie equal to everyone else alongside her.
“None of the Rutland volunteers saw my disabilities as barriers and they all adapted their teaching methods around me, for which I am extremely grateful.”
From talking to her left side, in a clear and slow voice, and gently checking she has both heard and understood, to working out how to get her to notice the buoys and obstacles and how to come into the jetty, Rutland’s team have found the right way for Millie. Millie also has limited dexterity and muscle control so finds steady, gentle movements on the tiller hard, but again, the volunteers have taught her to adapt. So much so she has now sailed solo. Mum recalls that moment.
“Immediately I said ‘No!’ to her sailing by herself. She’s clinically blind, what if she couldn’t see other boats or buoys? It was scary to me. But the instructors believed she was ready”.
Millie continues: “I was a little anxious and excited before that, and very confident and proud and happy after. My Mum was very nervous because of my lack of vision but she is beyond proud of my achievements. It’s very difficult to explain how much my confidence and self-esteem grew and I benefited from this experience.”
Sailing has, as Gail describes, “the most awesome effect” in Millie believing she can do anything, but has also played a different role in her life. A sensory meltdown in the spring resulted in Millie losing her confidence and not wanting to leave the house. Sailing was the only thing that would get her out. On the day she was due to be signed off for her Silver award, Gail still wasn’t sure if Millie would have the confidence to sail by herself. But Millie had other ideas. She had her fabulous back.
“When she came off the water, every aspect of her was different. Her body language, her demeanour, she glowed with joy, confidence and positivity. She was beaming and looked taller.”
Weather permitting, Millie sails twice a week and likes trying different boats. To make sense of the world around her Millie seeks security and routine. But Gail says learning to deal with the uncertainty of sailing, particularly the weather, helps Millie be more accepting of things out of her control.
Meanwhile, responsibilities such as being safe around the jetty, putting her buoyancy aid on and setting up the boats has seen her become more self-assured and independent. She is also making friends, something she finds difficult, and in one lad in particular, Millie has found someone she enjoys setting up the boats with.
“His mum and I just leave them to it!” Gail laughs.
Millie wants to go to college away from home. She also hopes to learn to race and achieve her Logbook Gold level. She says: “Sailing makes me confident, calm and happy. I have developed a passion for sailing and hope to continue to take this as far as I am able.”
For Gail, sailing’s impact on her daughter is more profound - “Sailability is a safe, supportive place that has given her room to grow. I can’t think of a single negative it has had on her.”
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