A few years ago after the annual Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race I noticed a curious group just outside the courtyard of the Bahia Hotel where post-race celebrations were under way. One guy was in a wheelchair, another smallish man was standing by his side and a third---apparently blind---was standing behind them with a cane. In the most tactful manner I could muster, I asked who they were and what they were doing there. They told me they had just sailed the race---and, furthermore, they intended to sail the next Transpacific Yacht Race from L.A. to Hawaii in 2003. Right, I thought to myself.
By now the Challenged America team has sailed two Media meet Challenged America at Transpac finish Transpacs. Last year, though one crewman short on their Tripp 40, B'Quest, they placed fourth overall among eight boats in Division 5 for smaller boats. "Disabled, my eye!" one rival commented afterward.
Now a lot of us know that underestimating the abilities of those with disabilities is a mistake. Through its achievements and related projects in the San Diego community, these men and women have changed the perspective of many able-bodied people and inspired many others with disabilities to realize that their lives not only are worth living but are rich with a new potential for achievement.
But now Challenged America needs help. Individuals and small businesses have been supportive with tax-deductible contributions, but the rising costs of its programs have depleted its limited resources to where it was unable to compete in the recent Newport to Ensenada Race, and its prospects for returning for the next Transpac in 2007 are dim. Urban Miyares was the man with the cane at Ensenada, the blind Vietnam veteran who co-founded the organization in 1990 and sails on the boat as bowman. He estimates it will cost $80,000 a year to keep B'Quest sailing, and that doesn't count major projects like Transpac. Sails, gear, maintenance---far less than $100-200 million for an America's Cup campaign or $8-10 million for a Volvo Ocean Race, but a big chunk of change without any billionaires or global corporations to pay the bills.
Are there any out there for Challenged America? Perhaps. But many consider their assistance not as contributions but investments, and they prefer return on their investments in media exposure.
OK, consider this: the Transpacific Yacht Race, with a century of folklore and tradition, is one of the great ocean races of the world with some of the fastest boats and very best sailors. And yet, amid all the drama of the last two Transpacs, it was the amazing men from San Diego---though short arms, legs and eyesight---who dominated the hearts, headlines and TV time more than dozens of other competitors combined.
Not all of the Challenged America sailors are war vets, but the tally of more than 17,000 American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan accelerates the purpose of Challenged America's role in the rehabilitation process.
Miyares' hope is to establish an endowment of $400,000 to meet a basic budget over the next five years. He is not talking America's Cup or Volvo Ocean Race funding, but donors---and investors---who will realize a more meaningful relationship in human terms. "We're looking for one individual or company to be a key benefactor," Miyares said. "Traveling around the country doing speeches, I am still shocked about how us sailing in the Transpac has changed attitudes and motivated others, especially those with disabilities."