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Blind sailor wants to go solo

  • Urban Miyares has been legally blind since the 1970s
  • Miyares teaches people with disabilities to sail with the Challenged America program
  • Miyares also has type 1 diabetes, and has to control his disease while at sea

Editor’s note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle — injury, illness or other hardship — they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. This week we introduce you to Urban Miyares, who has been legally blind since the 1970s.

(CNN) — The sea is a demanding environment, so people always ask, “How are you able to sail if you can’t see?”

The answer: I have an acute “spacial” awareness and directional ability, and I use the wind’s varying pressure and patterns of waves to determine the direction I’m headed.

The truth of the matter is at night on the sea, everyone is blind. When the darkness takes over, it can be the most frightening or peaceful of times. A time when you can be at one with the ocean and your vessel, whether a totally blind sailor like me or blessed with 20/20 vision.

When I became completely blind in 1984, I first thought sailing would no longer be possible. Then I was introduced to a program called “Challenged America,” which is designed to teach people with disabilities of all kinds how to sail. I realized it was something I had to be a part of, and I welcomed one of my truest passions back into my life.

Having logged thousands of coastal and offshore sailing miles in my youth, I’ve been able to add to my experience by sailing and racing on the West Coast with “Challenged America.” This includes being the captain on two trans-Pacific races from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

Ultimately, my blindness isn’t my biggest challenge when I take to the open sea — it’s my type 1 diabetes. Many people don’t realize the daily, if not hourly requirements that people with diabetes face. But it’s a disease that when properly managed can be nothing more than something you live with, rather than something that determines how you live.

I didn’t discover that I had diabetes until 1968, when I awoke from a diabetic coma in a military hospital in South Vietnam. As an infantry sergeant, I went unconscious during battle, was presumed dead and placed in a body bag. Fortunately, two days later, an alert medic who was putting toe tags on dead soldiers felt my pulse still beating and immediately rushed me to the hospital. I credit diabetes with saving my life, as I later learned that many soldiers in my outfit were killed or wounded.

Advances in diabetes have come a long way since then. It’s technology like my waterproof Animas insulin pump and new therapies and treatment that have made my journey to this point possible. Even when you are at sea, controlling your diabetes is so much easier than just a few short years ago.

Today I’m grateful for the life I’ve been given. I hope that how I’ve lived and what I’ve accomplished serves as inspiration for the disabled and the millions of Americans touched by type 1 diabetes every day.

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Through the “Challenged America” program, I vow to strive for more. I am proud to say that this program not only introduces adaptive sailing to people living with disabilities, but also goes far beyond and has led to opportunities for further education and employment for many individuals.

I hope that in sharing my story I motivate others to find a way to make their dreams and passions a reality.

My next goal: to sail around the world either solo or with a crew of sailors with disabilities.



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