Park City sailor Shannon Walton tells the tale of one of over 130 days of sailing that Park City Sailing’s Out Reach program has sailed in the last 5 years. Out Reach provides both adaptive and therapeutic sailing opportunities for populations ranging from wounded warriors to children learning to adapt to life changing illnesses. Last week we had our 2,000th participant and it deeply touched our team which also includes Scott VerMerris and Karl Paulsen plus the ongoing support of our Board of directors.
Most of our sailors don’t want their names or photos to ever be mentioned, so much of what we do is not in the public’s eye. George, who this story is about was different. He wanted his story told.
“A true story. On Monday, I was humbled and honored to spend the day taking an 85 year old man and his wife, whom he calls his girlfriend, for a sail. It was his wish from hospice to go on a sailboat. He has Parkinson’s and has been in hospice for a year and 1/2.
He wore his girlfriend’s jacket as they had given away most of his clothes. They didn’t expect him to still be alive.
George was a mechanical engineer, an MIT guy, who worked on Apollo among other projects. He once owned a hotel on the biggest lake in NH. He liked to Texas Two Step. And he can sing.
In NH while keeping up the hotel, when the wind would come up, he’d drop whatever he was doing and run for his sailboat. “I wouldn’t even ask or tell my wife,” he told me. He loved to sail.
When George moved to Utah with his job, he met Joan, his second wife via a dating ad in the Ogden newspaper. They’ve been married 25 years and have been on 27 cruises. They both love to travel. “You grow when you travel,” George said with a big smile and a wistful look. And June nodded, remembering all of their expansive experiences.
Monday was a very windy day and Ken and I made a plan to stay in a more sheltered part of the lake, but it was still blowing. The look of pure joy on both of their faces when we got underway made our hearts swell. The familiarity of the feeling of being in the groove on the water allowed George to connect with memories, feelings, and with life.
I won’t lie, I was a bit nervous- Ken, my dear friend and sailing partner, is older and has his own health issues. It was primarily up to me to assist George into and out of the boat and to make sure he was comfortable. Thanks to yoga training, I knew I could adjust and move him, but wasn’t sure how he would feel about it. He did trust me and that filled me with gravitas beyond what I had known adjusting bodies in yoga classes.
While Ken deftly handled the boat to keep the ride smooth, we talked about their meeting, their travels, love and water. The gravity of the day wasn’t lost on anyone.
We stayed out for almost three hours. No one wanted it to end. The sounds of the water on the boat, the sun, the wind and the views were somehow better than ever. But George was ready to go home.
Once we got to their car, I had a long hug and a cry with Joan. We spoke quickly and in hushed voices about the hard parts of being a caretaker for your dying love.
You see, my mom went through it, too. It’s freaking HARD. There’s a recovery and re-awaking process from being a caretaker like that. My mom has done some serious personal work in the last 10 years. I’m proud of her, yet I know it’s never really over. And I’m still not over losing my (chosen) dad. He also loved to be on boats.
It was hard to say goodbye to this amazing couple who are so brave, so full of spunk, and so totally in the process of life and death.
It’s Thursday now, and maybe I’m just only understanding the beauty and importance of what transpired on Monday. I feel a bit raw, fuller, more committed to joy and love. And I want to go see George and Joan.
Thank you Park City Sailing for being an organization that not only shares the joys of sailing with kids and adults who want to learn to sail but also open to things like this. I’m so glad we found each other.”