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Disabled Sailors Find Success in Premier Race

The ‘s 100th anniversary is a special occasion for the crews of the 75 sailboats taking part in this year’s event.

But for a crew of disabled sailors who began the race in Long Beach on July 11 onboard the 40-foot Challenged America yacht, B’Quest, the chance to compete against some of the top racing sailors and the fastest vessels in the world is momentous.

“This is the second time that a Challenged America crew with physical disabilities has participated in the race,” said Gail Strickland, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit organization.

“In 2003, the first year Challenged America entered, they wanted to make the statement that they could get from the starting line to the finish line. This time, they’re in it to win,” she said.

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At midday on July 13, a jubilant Strickland announced that the B’Quest, a donated racing yacht outfitted with the help of $120,000 in contributions , $50,000 is still needed , was leading the 32 boats in its division. The larger vessels in the race had later starting times. One group would leave on July 15 and the other on July 17.

The B’Quest’s team, including Urban Miyares, Kevin Wixom, Jim Halverson and Scott Meide, whose disabilities range from loss of vision to amputations, is expected to reach the finish line in Oahu on July 24.

The skipper of the vessel, Josh Ross, is able bodied. One of the crew members, Jeff Reinhold, who developed an elbow infection before the start of the race, stayed behind and is helping with press updates on the race.

Strickland, who volunteers time to Challenged America, also is the executive producer of Making Waves in Film Inc., an independent San Diego-based production company.

A group of engineering students from San Diego State University designed and built special fittings to enable the crew of the B’Quest to better compete against the able-bodied crews of the other vessels.

Neil Vesco, a San Diego State engineering student and a partner in Vesco Metal Craft, helped to perfect the design of a chair that is ergonomically suited to fit the needs of a disabled sailor and manufactured the four that are on the B’Quest.

“The framing of the chairs had to be tubular, since rough or sharp edges could scratch or injure a disabled person,” Vesco said.

Also very important, Reinhold said, are the seats’ waist and shoulder straps that hold one in place when the boat is heeling.

“If you can’t hold yourself in place with your feet, you can count on the straps,” Reinhold said. “That way you can continue to move lines and winches and drive the boat with the helm.”

For the last two years, engineering students at San Diego State have worked with Challenged America on different projects, including a seat on a tracking system that allows an individual to slide back and forth on a ship’s deck to operate the sails.

“With the help of the San Diego State engineering students, we are creating new and innovative devices for disabled sailors,” said Miyares.

A Vietnam veteran, co-founder of Challenged America and president of the Disabled Businesspersons Association, Miyares is blind.

Michael Lambert, a mechanical engineering professor at San Diego State said, “The people at Challenged America aren’t engineers, but they are experienced sailors.

“The students had to work with the clients, which is something they’ll do in the real world, to go through all the steps from vague ideas to the nitty-gritty details to make the project work.”

Lambert is a principal investigator on the project funded by the Engineering Senior Design Projects for Persons with Disabilities program of the National Science Foundation.

Founded in 1990 by disabled veterans, Challenged America has offices on Shelter Island. It is a therapeutic, recreational and rehabilitation program of the Disabled Businesspersons Association at San Diego State’s Interwork Institute.

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