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Competing through adversity: We speak to the charity team winner of the MS Amlin Seamanship Award

by Mark Jardine 9 Oct 12:00 BST
The Supporting Wounded Veterans team during the 2018 Round the Island Race © Ian Roman / www.ianroman.com

Sean Rose and his crew of ex-service personnel from the charity Supporting Wounded Veterans raced on Sunsail 4018 in The Round the Island Race 2018. This truly embodied the #RaceforAll ethos of the event. We spoke to Sean and crewmember Donna Baxter about what receiving the award meant to them, and the challenges of taking part.

The 2018 Round the Island Race had some of the lightest winds in its history, presenting a unique challenge for the crew as Sean described, "We tacked our way up to the Needles, taking the shifts and being as gentle as possible, finding that we were making way on a lot of boats. We seemed to be leaving the other Sunsail boats in our wake so were very happy!"

The team on Sean's boat were injured ex-service personnel, presenting some unique challenges, especially on a boat which isn't adapted for disabled sailing.

"Four of us on the crew were wounded in service; Donna Baxter had thirteen surgeries and has a double spine infusion and lives from day to day with chronic pain and fatigue - and I'm a wheelchair user, paralysed from the ribs down, so I had to move around the boat on my backside. We also had two sailors with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), so being in the confines of a small boat, living with each other for a week, was extremely challenging," explained Sean.

"We were really fortunate in that we had a great skipper and mate from Sunsail and a couple of sponsors on board who support the charity – a real mixed bag – but we all gelled really well and did what had to be done."

Simon Boulding, Events Director at Sunsail, nominated the team for the MS Amlin Seamanship Award, so we asked Donna what it meant to find out that the team had been chosen as the winner: "I didn't even know we were in the running for it, so it was a big surprise! Even though we all have physical or mental problems, we don't think about it and we just get on and do what we need to do on the boat – we forget about it and work as hard as we can, so the award is really great! I appreciate it!"

"It really did come out of the blue," said Sean. "Even when we read back what Simon said about it, we thought 'Who's he talking about?' We didn't really believe it was us!"

While there are now a range of accessible boats out on the water, the Sunsail F40 isn't modified for handicapped sailing, so Sean and the team had to work around some issues: "You need to be prepared to get down and dirty with it and throw yourself around it. I've a fairly strong upper body, being a wheelchair user, so I just made it happen. Getting downstairs with the steps was challenging, but for the love of it, and being back on a boat for the first time in 19 years, I just wanted to make it happen, so it was worth every hardship and was awesome."

For the ex-service personnel with PTSD, the training and event was challenging. "PTSD is a really difficult condition, an illness that they face, and all sufferers have certain triggers that send them to a really dark place. We had to manage those triggers and we knew what we had to do in each instance. They needed some support, but being amongst like-minded service personnel, with lots of banter on the boat, meant we weren't feeling sorry for ourselves, and got on with it, which helped loads as it was like being back before their injuries, back in regular service life, which was really refreshing for a lot of us. Out of their houses and back in an environment where they loved to be, and we all gelled really well because of it."

Paul Knox-Johnston of MS Amlin, one of the judges in the competition, described why this was the stand-out entry in the competition, "The way it was presented to us and the back-stories that came in from the nominator at Sunsail made it the stand-out entry. In a year where there was potentially very little in the way of stories to come out of the Round the Island Race, due to the light winds, it was good to have this superb entry which grabbed all of our attention."

Donna Baxter was keen to compete in the race in 2019, "I'd really like to take part again as I really enjoyed sailing, so I'd definitely love to do it again."

Sean Rose is determined to return for the 2019 Round the Island Race, continuing the work of the Supporting Wounded Veterans charity, "We want to offer first-time and newbie sailors the opportunity to experience what sailing is like. We definitely have spaces and I'm sure 2018 competitors like Donna will be in the running."

Listening to the story of Sean and his team taking part truly demonstrates how sailing can bring any team together and offer so many positive benefits. A truly worthy winner of the MS Amlin Seamanship Award and we look forward to following their story and watching them compete again in the Round the Island Race on Saturday 29th June 2019.

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