Sailor masters the waves despite disability


Dee Osmond and sailor Kevin Penny grin proudly after the final day of the Gold Fleet competition at the Mobility Cup.

When sailor Kevin Penny, 39, climbed into his sailboat at this year’s 2015 Mobility Cup, he sipped and puffed his way across the waves and into a personal best finish.

Penny doesn’t have the use of his arms, legs or feet to sail the boat. Instead he uses sip ‘n’ puff technology to steer his specially-designed Martin 16 sailboat.

He uses the power of his exhaling and inhaling to control the rudder and sails of his boat.  

The experienced sailor from Halifax savoured every second of his time away from shore at this year’s Mobility Cup, held Sept. 7 to 11, with a personal best sixth place finish.

Penny and his guide and coach Dee Osmand  celebrated on the dock at the Canadian Forces Sailing Association (CFSA) after learning his overall score at the five-day international regatta for sailors with disabilities.

Penny had not only broken a two-way tie with Haafsa Chaar of Montreal in the Gold Fleet competition, but also beat out the Mobility Cup’s three other sip ‘n’ puff sailors.

“No way,” Penny exclaimed after getting news from Osmond, who ran back to the dock from the CFSA clubhouse to relay the news.

“Now that we came in sixth, there’s a big reason to smile,” he said.

“I reached my goals, I wanted to do a top 10 [finish] and beat my other sip ‘n’ puff competitors and I did that. It was a lot of hard work, I spent a lot of time in the boat this summer and there was a lot of great coaching from Dee.”

Peter Eagar of Toronto was tops overall in the Gold Fleet competition while Pierre-Yves Lévesque of Montreal won the Silver Fleet competition for beginners and inexperienced sailors.

It’s been a long journey for Penny who first realized his dream of staying involved in competitive sports after participating in the 2006 Mobility Cup.

Twenty-four years ago, the thrill of competition was taken away.

On Oct. 24, 1994, Penny was just 15-years-old and was making collections for his paper route when he was involved in a life-changing cycling accident.

He raced down a steep incline, came through an intersection too quickly, and crashed into a ditch.

The accident left him a quadriplegic. Before the accident he was active in soccer, baseball and basketball.

Penny says, “When that opportunity came up in 2006 [Mobility Cup] it filled a void in me.”

Since taking to the water Penny has become an ambassador and promoter of his sport for the disabled.

He helped revamp the Sail Able Association of Nova Scotia with the help Canadian Paralympic gold medalist Paul Tingley, and currently serves as the organization’s chair.

CFSA disabled sailing representative Bill Macdonald says Penny’s story is inspirational; he is one of many disabled sailors who have similar tales of courage and determination.

Macdonald says Penny is a sailor who embodies the spirit of the Mobility Cup.

“His experience proves to others that there is no end to the survival of the competitive spirit, and that anything is possible,” says Macdonald.

Penny says he is already looking to the 2016 Mobility Cup in Montreal and improving on his performance.

The sport of disabled sailing can trace its roots back to the formation of the Disabled Sailing Association of British Columbia, which was started by quadriplegic Sam Sullivan in 1991.

Since then other disabled sailing associations have sprung up coast to coast, making the sport more accessible.

The CFSA hosted the inaugural Mobility Cup in 1995 and again in 2001.


Peter Mallett
Staff writer

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