Rockland man finds inspiration for innovative sailing programAdaptive sailing program reaches youth and adults with disabilities
Rockland — Two years ago, Kevin "KC" Heyniger was bustling through a thick crowd on the Fourth of July attempting to find a place where he and his two children could watch the parade.
He settled in a spot with his double stroller beside an older woman and her young niece. The woman told him not to worry about positioning his brood, as the little girl with her couldn't see — she was blind.
The aunt told him she brought her niece because, although she couldn't see, she felt joy experiencing the energy and sounds. Heyniger said he felt an overwhelming emotional reaction to the situation.
"I thought, I have to get that girl on a sailboat," he said. Heyniger is the waterfront programs director at the Apprenticeshop in Rockland.
The chance meeting inspired Heyniger to develop an adaptive sailing program for youth and adults with cognitive and physical disabilities in Rockland.
At a symposium sponsored by the U.S. Sailing Association in Boston, he met Paralympic gold medalist Maureen McKinnon-Tucker. She is paralyzed from the waist down following trauma sustained in a fall. She now coordinates a successful adaptive sailing program in Boston.
Heyniger told her of his plan, and McKinnon-Tucker said there would never be a perfect time to build such a program, that he had to just do it.
She also told him she was familiar with Rockland — it was the last place she walked. McKinnon-Tucker fell 13 feet from the seawall near the ferry terminal in the city nearly 20 years ago. She told Heyniger that coming to speak to his new students would be coming full circle for her.
Considered a pre-pilot program, Heyniger contacted the Maine Vocational and Rehabilitative Associates in Rockport and the Transitional Life Skills program at Camden Hills Regional High School. This past summer, the groups took sailing lessons, designed for youth and adults.
The students practiced on Moon Bird, a vessel designed with large steel handrails, a wide cockpit and simple controls for easy maneuvering.
"I've been awed by it. It's not so much an expression or a word, but they're just psyched, like they never thought they'd be in this situation," Heyniger said of the new students.
Teacher Ana Alley agrees. "Just being on the water creates a peace and serenity. It's making an impact and increasing confidence."
Alley said her students, naturally cautious, were initially nervous approaching the sail boats in Rockland Harbor. By the second week, students were racing to jump in the boats and some who are usually reserved, couldn't stop talking about their experience.
During the colder months, students are no longer sailing, but are learning how to care for and store boats for the winter. Depending on their class schedules, students come to the Apprenticeshop once or twice a month to work on Vanguard 420s, buffing out scratches and practicing general maintenance.
Student Christopher Cole looks forward to the project so much he wears his work goggles throughout the day, anticipating the hours in the shop.
Heyniger said the students are able to give back through their work at the shop, adding value to the equipment. The boats range in age from 18 to 24 years and are used by the high school sailing program, accruing some wear each summer.
Alley said students' participation working with the boats helps them develop interests and learn basic work skills. Of the sailing component, she said its been a wonderful experience.
"We'll see what evolves out of this garage project," Heyniger said, watching the students concentrate on their tasks. He hopes to expand the program in frequency and financial stability.
"I don't want to take off my apron, I'm having so much fun," said one student as the class prepared to return to school.
For more information, contact KC via apprenticeshop.org.
Courier Publications reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.