Milwaukee VA Medical Center
Sailing program charts a positive course
Despite the pressure of being a sailing novice, Duran couldn’t be more at ease.
Duran, an Army Veteran who was wounded on his first tour in Afghanistan, is among a group of Veterans learning to sail as part of program between the Milwaukee VA Medical Center and the Milwaukee Yacht Club.
“It takes your mind off the stuff that might be bothering you or worrying, or the pain issues might go away just for a little bit while you’re out here,” said Duran. “It’s like giving yourself a gift.”
The group meets once a week in the evening, learning basic sailing terminology and techniques, and then working together as a crew for a couple hours out on Lake Michigan.
“It provides a sense of purpose,” Duran said. “It’s something to look forward to, and this is what I look forward to every week.”
The Milwaukee Yacht Club offers a sailing program to Veterans receiving mental health care, said Courtney Zeller, a recreation therapist at the Milwaukee VA.
“It’s a great way for Veterans to get out on the water and to forget everything that they’re going through and focus their mind on something positive,” Zeller said. “It’s a great way to build camaraderie. They need to work as team, communicate with each other and all those skills can carry over to their everyday life.”
Duran was among four Veterans on one boat under the enthusiastic guidance of Sam House, a professional sailor and coach. Another group of Vets was out on a second boat.
On this night, the boats take advantage of a steady wind to cut rapidly through the harbor against the backdrop of the downtown Milwaukee skyline. As the bow knifes through the water, House calmly offers a steady stream of instructions on which lines to pull, how to watch the wind indicators, where to stash the winch handle and how to quickly react to the subtle changes of sailing.
“They’re great. It’s just so much fun. I absolutely love it,” said House, whose father is a Marine Veteran. “But, they’re here to learn, 100 percent. They’re no different than any other group of people I’ve been on boats with, because the whole time, people are just happy.”
Photo Gallery - View more photos from the Veterans sailing program in our flickr album
Christy Ward, a 41-year-old Navy Veteran, was the only female at the class that evening.
“Sailing, just being on the water, feels free. Working with the other Veterans, learning the lines, it’s great,” Ward said. “The weather’s great, the sun was out shining on the water, the waves -- it was wonderful.”
Participating in the eight-week course also allows volunteer opportunities for the Veterans to continue sailing with the race crew committee on other nights, Zeller said.
Duran said he hopes to put his growing set of sailing skills to an important future use.
“My mom grew up sailing, racing,” he said. “We’re finally in a place where sailing can be an opportunity for both of us. This is an opportunity for me to learn so we can sail together.”