Taking care of five-year-old Caelen Gorman is a fulltime job.
He’s on several different medications and is on oxygen 24/7, getting all of his medications through a tube in his stomach.
But once aboard the Mariner 3 with his mom Kayte, there’s a chance to escape the endless cycle of appointments, medications and treatments that can be a challenge to deal with.
"This is freedom, this is heaven to us," said Caelen’s mom, Kayte. "To just step away from the medical world for a minute and just live, and just be normal for a while — it’s incomparable."
Aboard the Mariner 3, there’s dancing, manatee-watching, and even a chance to take the helm — all to lift the spirits of children and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses.
But best of all, there are no doctors, no nurses, and no medicine to take. And for Caelen, there’s the chance to fit in and just be a kid.
"No one is asking what is the oxygen in his nose and why does he have that," said Kayte Gorman. "Everyone here has their own story and to be able to just see him interact with his peers, with no judgment is amazing."
Caelen’s immune system is weak and he gets sick faster than other children, so his mom often has to figure out ways to keep him entertained indoors.
That, however, isn’t a challenge for her when he’s on the water, surrounded by fresh air. The boat is run by Freedom Waters, a non-profit organization that provides boating opportunities for kids with disabilities, life threatening illnesses, at-risk youth, people with special needs and veterans.
"They [Freedom Waters] just give us a chance to breathe,” she said. "And they give us a chance to take a break for a little while and just relax and be normal again.
The care-free spirit of those aboard is what six-time cancer survivor John Weller was hoping for when he founded Freedom Waters ten years ago.
"This is a getaway from reality," said Weller. “And to be on a boat like this is something very, very special.”
And for John, the big pay-off in gathering volunteers to help man the boat once on the sea, comes once the kids get aboard.
“When you get out on the water, all your cares go,” he said. “The gift to me is seeing a smile on their faces, that's what it's all about.”