Last weekend was the Burghfield Sailing Club's Challenger Open Meeting. And I took part.
I sail in the Bronze class which is for people who need someone with them on the boat. I do sail by myself on a Tuesday evening at sailability but the regattas can get a little scary with how close people get to each other and all jockeying for the best start etc. So I don't feel quite ready to go by myself in a competition.
As I think I've blogged before, I've previously found the competitions great fun but difficult because although they are for disabled people they're not a great match for my own disability. Particularly the fact that we do back to back races so you can be on the water for a couple of hours at a time. I have a very high level of spasticity in my legs which makes it hard for me to bend and move them. Being in the boat is really good for me because it forces me to sit in a different position and stretches them out a bit. But I can't move them in or out of that stretch myself whilst in the boat (someone has to do it for me and that's not possible on the water) and after a while it gets very uncomfortable, painful even and has meant I couldn't do the back to back races. I was convinced that was a problem which was insurmountable and I'd never do very well in the regattas. It's part of the reason why I was so worried about going.
I use a sports seat in the boat which has proved really useful but not the complete solution. This time round I took a little extra baclofen for a day or so before (my script is written for me to do that if I think I need it) and played with the dose so I took it shortly before I sailed. It helped. A lot.
For the first time ever I managed to do all three races on Friday. Admittedly during the last one I was saying that I was hurting and told my buddy that I would need to go in soon to which she went "you're not going in!!" and actually they shortened the course and started finishing people before I hit my breaking point. At which point I didn't care, I wanted to finish and hear the finishing horn sound for me as I went across the line (they sound it to signify you've finished racing and they've marked your details down). I was a lap behind the majority of the fleet (although not the other bronze sailors) though and I did tell G that if they didn't finish me and wanted me to do the extra lap I was done anyway. But they did. The safety crew came and asked if I wanted to be towed in and I said yes! I took pain meds (codeine) when we came in - partially because I was developing a headache but mostly because of the ache in my legs - I wouldn't necessarily have taken it for just one or the other but both together and the fact I wanted to take part the next day called for the meds.
I ended that day with two Firsts and a Second for the bronze fleet and 9th overall (there were 11 sailors). I was very tired and went to bed a couple of hours early
The second day I had a different buddy. It started off with the traditional pre-race bacon sandwich and one of the beach crew who comes to most of the regattas came over and commented on how well I'd done the day before. She said she'd never known me do 3 races in a day before - and as I said above I never had. It meant a lot to me that people could see my improvement and recognised it for what it was.
I again finished all 3 of the races that day. I'd been in pain before the last and could have dropped out (because your worst place gets discarded if more than 4 races are sailed) but I was too bloody minded and was determined to do the last race just in case it affected my standing - the first time I'd really achieved something in a regatta like that, I wasn't going to jepordise it.
But I ended the day with firsts in each of the races and came 9th in the fleet overall. I won the bronze fleet for the first time ever and now have a nice glass on display in my flat. It has "Burghfield Sailing Club. Challenger Open Meeting 2011. Bronze Fleet. First. engraved on it. And it's mine.
Several people spoke to me and said well done and congratulations, even people I'd not really met before. It was an amazing feeling. And I can't wait for the Oxford regatta to do it all over again.