Video: Olympian shares the joy of sailing

By Roger O’Neil Correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/18/2006 7:42:46 PM ET 2006-08-18T23:42:46

Easy just isn't a word the disabled use very much. Nothing is easy when you're in a wheelchair. Or when you're blind.

But Karen Mitchell knows legs aren't needed to walk the waves.

"I forget about my disability," Mitchell says about sailing.

And Janice Bartleson doesn't need eyes to see the wind.

U.S. Olympic gold medalist Magnus Liljedahl says sailing is one of the few sports where the disabled can leave their disabilities on the dock and be as good as anyone else. The one-time playboy of the seas is making a difference on Florida's Biscayne Bay.

"The first half of my life, I was mainly concerned about myself," Liljedahl says. "But when we leave we can't take anything with us anyways, so, it's important to give back to the community."

Working in partnership with Miami's non-profit Shake-a-Leg Foundation, more than 3,000 disabled people every year are getting a chance to forget their handicaps and feel a refreshing spray in their faces.

Liljedahl believes the reward is in the journey. And for him, this journey has been a rich one.

"I've really learned to appreciate life by seeing what they've got to deal with," he says.

And he's also become a better sailor.

It's a story you often hear from volunteers, helping others often helps them more. It re-awakens senses dulled over time because the able-bodied take those senses for granted.

On the dock, all seem to relish the chance to get their feet wet.

"It gives me a feeling of independence and freedom," Manuela Hoyos says. "I feel free from my wheelchair."

Which is why a saying on Biscayne Bay seems so appropriate: Sailing past challenges to open horizons.

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