Para-sailors turning heads at Masters Games

April 25th, 2017

Chris Sharp's green machine is becoming well known on the sailing course at the World Masters Games, largely because it's finishing ahead of most of his rivals.

What makes that extraordinary is that Sharp is a paraplegic after a motorbike accident seven years ago. The 59-year-old is sitting eighth of 30 competitors in the single-handed Weta class after two days of racing where he is up against a number of former top-level sailors.

Sharp is not alone in turning heads.

Fellow Paralympians Paul Francis and Andrew May are ninth and 11th respectively after seven of the 14 scheduled races.

"There are 30 entrants and the goal is to get as many behind me as I can," Sharp said. "There is only one person here who I feel any empathy with, as in I would let them cross my bow and that's Andrew. Everyone else is fair game and to be taken out."

"When we first started here I got the impression the other competitors were wondering what we were capable of. Now they are saying they have to beat that guy because they are getting beaten by a guy in a wheelchair. It's made it very, very cut-throat out there now."

"I had an accident and put myself in a chair seven years ago. This is the first regatta that I have been in control of to be racing against able-bodied people and the satisfaction of beating them is huge. It's what I have been trying to get back to. It's no different to any other yachtie. You get this huge feeling of wellbeing if you manage to throw everyone else out the back door."

Two-time Olympic medallist Rex Sellers did that better than most today. The 66-year-old collected two seconds and a first to climb to third overall in the single-handed Weta and take a commanding lead in his age category.

He is full of admiration for both Sharp and May, who were training partners ahead of the World Masters Games.

"It's much harder for them," said Sellers, who won gold with Chris Timms in the Tornado at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. "I take my hat off to them. Every day when you see those guys, you realise what it's like to be able-bodied."

Three-time Olympian Dan Slater also enjoyed the breezy conditions of 15-18 knots today off Torbay by picking up another two wins in the Laser class to maintain his perfect record but the Laser Radial contest is wide open with the top four competitors all within six points of each other. Scott Leith (four points) continues to lead ahead of Mark Orams (6) and Australia's Adam Beashel (7).

Racing continues on Wednesday after tomorrow's lay day when light winds are forecast.

It's something May, who became a paraplegic as a 17-year-old after a car accident, is looking forward to. He prefers the lighter conditions when it's less physically demanding.

"They are a really busy little boat with three sails and they're pretty quick," he said. "I'm competitive so I want to win but I also want to push what I can do with my disability. I'm reaching that limit at times. But that's probably the most satisfying part to get out there and conquering those challenges."

Both Sharp and May, who were teammates at last year's Paralympics in Rio, are coming to terms with news para-sailing won't be at the Tokyo Paralympics, largely because of its limited reach worldwide.

Sharp sees a future for para-sailing in the Weta and hopes performances this week will help convince World Sailing of the class' potential.

He's certainly going the right way about it.


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