An international sailing event of Olympic, and inspiring, proportions is on its way to Rochester
You can call it "the world cup." Irondequoit's Keith Burhans does.
As many as 170 competitors from 28 countries will come to the Rochester Yacht Club for the IFDS Disabled Sailing World Championship, 2007, Single-Person, Two-Person, and Three-Person Keelboats, starting early next week.
The event is a renowned competition. It's a qualifier for the 2008 Paralympics, following the summer Olympic Games, in Beijing, China.
It's quite an honor.
"Sanctioned world championships are hard to get," said Burhans, who co-chairs the event with Irondequoit resident Tom Roth, also of the Rochester Yacht Club.
Burhans said world championships are usually held in the country where the Olympic games will be, but Rochester won the bid against a city in France and Toronto.
The world championships are held in each of the three years between Olympics. "This is a big deal ... and we've gotten great community support for it," said Burhans.
A boulevard of international flags went up recently on Irondequoit's Pattonwood Drive, which is an entryway to Irondequoit and the yacht club.
What sets the event apart is that all competitors are medically disabled, from quadriplegics to men and women who have lost limbs or been diagnosed with debilitating diseases.
"But at the end of the day," Burhans said, "it's really a celebration of what people can do, as opposed to what they can't."
He has seen the sport of disabled sailing growing, and has been a part of it.
Burhans sails and competes despite losing both legs following a devastating sailing accident in late July 1995. He walks – and and wins sail races – with the aid of two prosthesis. He was part of a three-man team that competed in the Paralympic Games in 2000 in Sydney.
He says the "para" in the Olympic event title refers to "parallel" rather than "paraplegic." The games are designed to mirror the Olympics in competitiveness and skill level, he said. Roth has sailed and been friends and neighbors with Burhans for years. "When his tragedy happened, it broke my heart as well as that of others," Roth said, "but it got us even closer."
He said organizing the event is something Burhans asked him to do, "and I would do anything for him – and vice versa." That "anything" has meant a year of planning.
That ranged from lining up some 150 volunteers to "developing a culture," Roth said, "of not tripping over ourselves for the disabled sailors. They're very proud people."
Burhans has been part of designing boat adaptations for some sailors. For instance, a tiller extension might be used on a boat skippered by a quadriplegic, or a boat might require a special seating system with a chair on a track.
Burhans will also be out there competing, in the three-person event with teammates David Schroeder, a quadriplegic from Miami. He skippers the boat. U.S. Navy Lt. John Pucillo, who lost a leg in Iraq, is also on the team.
"One of our tag lines for the event is 170 inspiring stories," Roth said. "On a humbling note, I think it will be very good for our souls to be around people who are more challenged. It may help us in our own lives, too."
Three different disciplines will be racing, Burhans said, on three different courses. He said there will be about 45 competitors in one-person boats, around 20 in two-person boats, and 27 entries in the three-person races.
About 50 percent of the boats, Roth said, have been shipped from overseas in containers, so just having a staging area for setting up the boats was a challenge.
Racing won't be all that far off shore, so it's something the community may observe.
The Rochester Yacht Club has hosted 15 world championships in its about 120-year history, Roth said, "but I would say this is the biggest regatta we've every done ... because it's so different and so special ... Every participant has a reason to be doing this, but when you're inside a boat and sailing, you're no different than anyone else; you are one with your competitors."
For information on the competition, visit www.2007ifdsworlds.com.Competitors. Competitors from 28 countries start arriving Sept. 5. Qualifying process for competition starts Sept. 7 and opening ceremonies are Sept. 9. Actual sailing competition on Lake Ontario runs Sept. 10 through 14, and closing ceremonies are Sept. 15.
Linda Quinlan can be reached at (585) 394-0770, ext. 350, or at email@example.com.