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Clearwater Pirate Camp teaches amputee children to sail past limitations


Despite still winds and seas, Captain Brad and his salty seadogs, confident from an earlier victory, turned south to press an attack on "Big Nick" and "El Diablo." "Get in attack position! Hold your fire!" yelled Brad Kendell, 31, a U.S. Sailing Paralympic athlete. His crew shifted to the side of their catamaran and readied their weapons.

"Attack!" the captain shouted, unleashing a water gun broadside followed by a loose rendition of the song A Pirate's Life for Me.

Then they headed back for lunch during the first Never Say Never Pirate Camp, an introduction to sailing for amputee children and their families. It was held this past weekend, and organizers intend to make it an annual event.

Nine years ago, Kendell was riding in a twin-engine Piper Navajo airplane when it stalled and then crashed near the Clearwater Airpark. The crash claimed his father, his friend and both of his legs above the knees.

"I'm glad I don't remember it," said Kendell, now 31.

When he entered Tampa General Hospital, he was 6 feet 1 and 198 pounds. After six months of surgery and rehabilitation, he was 118 pounds and "a whole lot shorter."

During his recovery, a visitor came to the hospital — a more experienced amputee who showed him that at least someone else could get on with life after losing their legs. "Meeting other people in the same situation can help guide you," Kendell said.

Two years later, he was walking with the assistance of microprocessor-controlled C-Legs. He joined the U.S. Disabled Sailing Team and married his college girlfriend, Melissa, with whom he has a 2-year-old daughter, Piper.

"You go on with life, you keep on moving," he said. "Life is too much fun to miss it."

Now, Kendell is showing kids, their families and other amputees that there's more than just coping on the other side of calamity. There is happiness, independence and excitement.

The two-day pirate camp helped turn about 20 swabs into sailors by teaching them boating safety, respect for the ocean, and that they don't have to live by limits imposed by others.

"You can leave the wheelchair and prosthetics on the dock," Kendell said, having swapped his non-waterproof C-Legs for short, jointless ones. "Everyone's equal on the water."

Kendell and event co-organizer Danny Deeds, a business development manager with Hanger Orthotics and Prosthetics, got the idea to create an adaptive sailing camp called "Never Say Never Pirates" in February. Accessibility and a well-developed range of adaptive equipment make sailing an ideal sport for amputees, Kendell said.

Groups like theirs are essential, as no one knows the difficulties better than another amputee, said Deeds, whose pirate name is "Captain Skunkhead."

For kids, it can be even harder. "There's not a lot of channels for them to be exposed to other kids like themselves," Deeds said.

When they went to file the paperwork, Kendell and Deeds discovered that the name Never Say Never was already taken. As it turned out, Ocala residents Nick Stilwell and Regas Woods, two bilateral leg amputees, had been operating the Never Say Never Foundation for about three years to assist the 200 to 300 amputee children and young adults in Florida and their families.

So Kendell and Deeds came on board, and the pirate camp was able to work with Never Say Never's organization and connections. The camp also received assistance from Sailability Greater Tampa Bay, a nonprofit group based out of the Clearwater Community Sailing Center, which provides lessons, adaptive equipment and special boats to make sailing more accessible for the disabled.

The discussion then changed from "next year" to "as soon as possible," Deeds said. Right now, the group plans to host the camp once a year. But with the right sponsorship, they could increase the frequency.

Never Say Never, with its camps, advice and athletic grants, has been a blessing for Melisa Page-Bailie's family, she said. "They've taken on our family like we're their family."

When David Page, 18, and Michelle Page, 20, wanted to compete in the Endeavor Games in Oklahoma this year, Never Say Never made it possible.

"My kids never ran or were involved in any sports before they got involved" with the organization, said Page-Bailie of Jacksonville. At the games, David placed in weightlifting and two running events, while Michelle placed in three running events.

This year, the foundation hopes to raise nearly $100,000 to supply athletic prosthetics for the siblings.

Well-meaning people are always telling kids with limb loss what they can and can't do, Page-Bailie said. Never Say Never "makes them feel so comfortable, like they don't have a disability."

Clearwater Pirate Camp teaches amputee children to sail past limitations 10/11/12 [Last modified: Thursday, October 11, 2012 7:30pm]
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