For speed, Maureen McKinnon-Tucker leans as hard as she can to leeward as she and teammate Mark Lewis train with nearly no wind in Duxbury.
“That which doesn’t kill you can only make you better.”
This quote is not only displayed on Maureen McKinnon-Tucker’s Web site, but also in her heart as she prepares to fight for the one U.S. spot in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.
After a fall during her family vacation, McKinnon-Tucker sustained a spinal cord injury resulting in Paraplegia. McKinnon-Tucker says that her wheelchair does not restrict her; instead, it empowers her to continue doing all the things any able-bodied person can do.
Prior to her injury, McKinnon-Tucker had been a casual sailor, sailing J-24s with her husband Dan. Afterwards, however, she became discouraged by the lack of competitive sailing boats for the disabled.
“Most of the boats were made for the purpose of therapy, and that’s not what I was looking for,” McKinnon-Tucker said. “I wanted to compete. I wanted to race.”
Not finding what she wanted, McKinnon-Tucker bought a kayak and forgot about sailing.
Eight years later, she found the answer she had been looking for while attending Marblehead race week. It was there that she was introduced to a Sonar keelboat, a racing boat well suited for handicapped sailing due to its large cockpit.
Since taking to the water again, McKinnon-Tucker has participated in several regattas and found herself among the team that qualified the U.S. for the 2004 Paralympics in Athens in a three-person keelboat.
During her time off from the circuit while she prepared for the birth of her second child, McKinnon-Tucker found herself committing to her current campaign with Team Eagle.
McKinnon-Tucker serves as a mentor with the Spinal Cord Injury Association, where she works with people who have been recently injured. It was through this avenue that McKinnon-Tucker met her current teammate.
“A girl I was working with knew Mark, and when he told her that he was aiming to go to the Beijing Paralympics she said, ’I know a Paraplegic who wants to do the same,” she explained.
McKinnon-Tucker committed to a campaign with Mark Lewis, a 25-year-old quadriplegic from Hingham, even though at the time she was nine months pregnant.
Three months after giving birth, she was back out on the water practicing with Lewis.
Being a “high-level” quadriplegic, Lewis takes at least a half an hour to get into the boat, according to McKinnon-Tucker. Once settled, Lewis uses Velcro gloves to attach his hands to the tiller, which he can only use his biceps to push.
The team has currently begun to practice off the docks of the Boston Yacht Club on Wednesday and Thursday nights, the only handicapped-accessible dock available to them in Marblehead. McKinnon-Tucker said they are currently looking to volunteer lifters to transfer Lewis from his power wheelchair into the boat.
Though she has had to juggle her home life with sailing regattas and several different volunteer organizations with which she works, all of this seems easy compared to the current task at hand- fund raising.
“Within the next few months, we need to raise over $90,000 in order to continue on with our campaign,” McKinnon-Tucker said. “We have already raised and spent thousands dollars on traveling expenses just to get us to and from each regatta.”
McKinnon-Tucker added, “People don’t always understand why there is such a great need for money, but when you think about it, we need to spend an equal number of days at each regatta prepping and practicing, and those travel expenses add up. It’s nothing glamorous either, eating out of coolers and 18 hours of boat towing and kid juggling.”
One of their latest fund-raising attempts allowed them to purchase the SKUD-18 [SKiff Universal Design], a new two-person keelboat introduced by the International Federation of Disabled Sailing, for a new class of sailing at Beijing.
One of six SKUD-18s arrived from Singapore this week, and McKinnon-Tucker and Lewis will be among three other U.S. sailing teams to sail and race this newly adapted boat. The centralized seating of the SKUD-18 allows for more accessibility, helping with McKinnon-Tucker’s goal to do more than just trim the jib.
“This is a genuine sports boat,” McKinnon-Tucker said. “It is very fast and highly responsive.”
With tons of training and a regatta already under their belt from this past March, McKinnon-Tucker feels she and Mark are really beginning “to gel as a team.”
“Mark is annoyingly determined,” she said. “To be good we need to sail and compete often, which means about one regatta per month. I would hate to see this end due to fund-raising issues.”
Supportive husband and coach Dan Tucker noted that people don’t always realize the hard work that goes into such campaigns.
“After watching the Winter Olympics, it hit me how so few people really understand the amount of work that goes into all of this,” Tucker said. “You work hard for three to four years straight for only one shot at winning.”
And that is exactly what McKinnon-Tucker is doing.
“Sailing is the great equalizer,” McKinnon-Tucker said. “Once we are in our boats, we are all the same and can sail as well as anyone.”
While they work on putting together several fund-raisers to help support Team Eagle, McKinnon-Tucker hopes that the people of both their communities will help support their cause.
Donations can be made through the Sailing Foundation of New York online at www.sailingfoundationofnewyork.org. The foundation helps fund all Olympic sailors by dispersing grants from a general fund. To donate specifically to Team Eagle, make sure to mention the name when donating. Donations can also be sent to McKinnon-Tucker at 25 Auburndale Road.
For more information on Team Eagle, view their Web site at http://teameagle.org/.
VIDEO: Two local sailors are determined to compete in the 2008 Paralympics. Alice Cook reports. http://firstname.lastname@example.org