Challenged on land, sailors with disabilities find freedom on the water

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Sailors from all over the world are in Chicago this weekend to compete in the Independence Cup. It is one of only a handful of sailing races in the world designed for those with disabilities.

You often hear that being out on the water makes your troubles wash away. That couldn't be more true for competitors in the Independence Cup who are out there showing just how able they are.

Patrik Norstrom is competing this weekend.

"When you detach the boat from the dock, it's the start of a process where you don't know what Mother Nature will do to you.  So it's a marvelous feeling."

It is a freeing feeling for these competitors who are used to the challenges of land.

Navigating the world from a wheelchair, without sight or, in Patrik’s case, without arms is something they've learned to overcome.

And in many cases, it was their disability, that made them stronger.

“I am a really competitive person. Since I was young, I wanted to be the best at everything I do."

For Patrik, it was what he couldn't do that frightened him most.

"I was really afraid of water.  So I bought a boat and dealt with my fears."

Dependent on his feet for everything, Patrik used his engineering skills to design a special tiller to steer with.  It is light enough to respond to the slightest movement of his toes. In fact, every one of the boats used in the Independence Cup are adaptable to specific disabilities and designed to make the most of what these sailors can  do.

The Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Foundation has been donating their boats and teaching people with physical challenges to sail from Burnham Harbor for over 25 years.

"We stress abilities and not disabilities,” says the foundation’s Peter Goldman. “There's no cost for these people to use the boats."

Many say sailing out on the water is a chance to leave their physical disability behind on shore.

"A lot of them know each other from other races and they've been sailing together,” Peter says. “So this is like old home week for some people."

There are over 40 competitors hoping capture the Cup come Sunday.

If you want to check out the regatta yourself, competitors sail out of Burnham Harbor at 9 a.m. with the last race wrapping lakeside late Sunday afternoon.