Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Not Just for Breakfast

Living in the face of adversity. It's what these people do for breakfast, all these Paralympians who choose to do rather than fade away, but none more so than Nick Scandone and Maureen McKinnon-Tucker.

Scandone is beating the odds just to be alive to sail the Paralympic Games at Qingdao, much less leading the SKUD 18 class after three days of racing. Then again, the Games have been a goal worth fighting for, all the way through the progressively-debilitating stages of ALS. Airplane drivers talk about this sort of cool determination as, "flying it all the way to the scene of the crash."

Maureen? Most sailors already know the story of the February regatta at Miami, where she got the word that her three-year-old, Trent, had brain cancer.

The reaction of horror is easy to imagine.

So let us speak instead of Ms. McKinnon-Tucker's decision that this thing that was tearing her heart apart would not blow her life apart. She would continue to train and sail. She would continue to work full time from her wheelchair. She would make sure that healthy little Dana received parental attention along with critically-ill Trent. She would explain, "Dan & I feel it’s important to show the kids that life goes on in the face of adversity. Giving up the Paralympics would be conceding a battle to cancer that it has no business winning."

Trent now has been through a course of chemo and a course of radiation. So far, so good, though the side effects can be greater on a little kid than on an adult. Maureen already knew plenty about that. Her full-time work is at Piers Park Sailing Center, Boston Harbor, an adaptive-sailing facility. "We started it a year ago," she says. "We've had one thousand percent growth."

Piers Park is for adults and kids, but adaptive sailing is especially valuable for the young, McKinnon-Tucker says, "Kids with disabilities have very few opportunities for recreation and almost no opportunity to compete on a level playing field. These kids get turned away from every other sport, but they don't get turned away from sailing."

Then, with a little grin (she's been in a wheelchair since falling off a seawall in the 1990s) she adds, "Sailing is something most of us do sitting down, right?"

Ah, but that conversation took place a while ago, before she left for China. Now, in a fleet of 11 SKUD 18s [Editor's Note: This is updated on Thursday] Nick and Maureen are in the lead, and 2.4mR sailor John Ruff also leads his class.

SKUD 18s sail a trapezoid course, which was developed for the 1996 Olympic Games at Savannah. Paralympic coach Betsy Alison explains, "Trapezoids are used in China only for the SKUD 18 class. The Sonars and 2.4mRs sail Windward-Leeward courses.

"The Trapezoid is used to separate two fleets in the same race area so that one does not interfere with the other. SKUDs and 2.4mRs race on the same course. SKUDs start first, sail a windward beat followed by a reach, an outer leeward, windward, leeward course, then a short port reach to the finish. While they race the outer loop, the 2.4's sail a W-L course on the inner loop."

Wednesday was a layday. On Thursday the breeze was drifter-light off Qingdao (just say 青島啤酒廠, same as the beer, and did they punt a marketing opportunity or what?) at the same facility that hosted the Olympic Games last month. One race per class was completed. The standings:

SKUD-18: 11 boats
1. Nick Scandone (Newport Beach, Calif., USA) and Maureen McKinnon-Tucker (Marblehead, Mass., USA), 2, 1, 1, 1, (3), 2; 7
2. Daniel Fitzgibbon and Rachael Cox, AUSTRALIA, (4), 2, 2, 2, 2, 4; 12
3. John Scott McRoberts and Stacie Louttit, CANADA, (3), 3, 3, 3, 1, 3; 13

2.4 mR: 16 boats
1. John Ruf (Pewaukee, Wis., USA), 2, 6, 1, (9), 1, 7; 17
2. Paul Tingley, CANADA, 1, 1, 5, 2, (9), 9; 18
3. Thierry Schmiter, NETHERLANDS, 5, 3, 2, (10), 7, 1; 18

Sonar: 14 boats
1. Bruno Jourdren, Herve Larhant and Nicolas Vimont-Vicary, FRANCE, 4, 1, 1, 2, (7), 1; 9
2. Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Graeme Martin, AUSTRALIA, (8), 4, 2, 3, 3, 3; 15
3. Jens Kroker, Robert Prem, Siegmund Mainka, GERMANY, 5, (6), 3, 1, 4, (11); 19
8. Rick Doerr (Clifton, N.J., USA), Tim Angle (Marblehead, Mass., USA) and Bill Donohue (Brick, N.J., USA), 1, 9, 10, 6, (11), 10; 36