We’re coming into our 25th year in 2020. This is remarkable considering how this was built from nothing. I remember the first meeting of volunteers back in 1995. I had been adapting and teaching windsurfing to people with disabilities for about 10 years already. We just had really good media exposure with a Globe cover story about Josh and my windsurfing marathons and Dr. Tim Johnson’s great piece about our family on Good Morning America. All of the sudden, people were interested in helping us out and wanting to volunteer.
At that meeting we went around the room of about 8 or 10 of us asking what they thought would be a good goal for our first summer. I wanted buy-in and wanted an egalitarian feel as we started. One man suggested that we start small and work with kids who had, essentially, dental and facial reconstruction issues. I recall how quiet everyone became. They had all seen the story of how Josh, living with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia, could somehow stand and lean on me on a narrow windsurfer to sail 10 miles! Others knew how my family had taught others to do similarly and how we had invented and fabricated devices for seated windsurfing. The silence was broken again with this volunteer telling us to shoot low and how we might progress to others but being too ambitious was dangerous.
If you know me, you know that I am not an autocrat. We designed AccesSport to have that egalitarian feel I mentioned a moment ago. But this was a rare moment when I had to make a stand. I told him we were going to invite everyone of every ability and disability in our first year. If we couldn’t accommodate someone, we’d develop the adaptation to get them windsurfing. Then I did something I had never done before in 20 years as minister. I told him if he wasn’t good with that he was in the wrong place. That volunteer left and was never seen again.
If I could ever find the volunteer again, I’d thank him, (and probably apologize for my abruptness). He forced me and AccesSport to be bold and shoot high, just as we had with our son and as we continue to do today. I knew we could do much more because I was already doing it. I had to step up and lead with a confidence I didn’t know I had. The cause gave me conviction. Once that volunteer left, our meeting started to really have life. We dreamed and designed. Within weeks we had a program and a summer of programming. We did it all that year with seats, standers, and tethering set ups that were revolutionary and effective. Every day we continue to live out that same boldness and confidence that we have the tools to change lives for the better.
Now our knack for bringing out the best in our athletes is broader and larger than we ever expected. But, then again, perhaps this is just what we expected. I hope you’ll be a part of our yearlong celebration. Our Gala on April 28th is the next big celebration and Josh Lilley is going to be our athlete of this quarter century. No one has been more determined, compelling, or gifted an athlete as he. Long time Honorary Board member Bill Belichick is our 25th Anniversary honoree for his help over these years. Catch The Wave with us.