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Steven Palmer: Case Study

Steven began to learn to sail at 8 years old in a topper with the Sea Scouts. From this first experience his passion for sailing developed but the journey to becoming an inspiring sailor and race coach began after he lost his legs in 2010.

“Sailing has transformed my life it is so much more than a hobby. I wouldn’t be the person I am now without the experiences and opportunities it has given me.”

Aged 20 Steven joined the Army and became Lance Corporal in the Royal Engineers. Maintaining his interest in sailing he took part in army leisure sailing activities and achieved his coastal skipper certificate. In 2010 Steven’s life changed forever after he stepped on an IED whilst serving in Afghanistan. The blast resulted in Steven losing both of his legs he became a double above the knee amputee.
Following the incident Steven began an intense rehabilitation programme at DRMC Headley Court, eventually learning to walk again on prosthetic legs. Within the first year of rehabilitation Steven was offered the opportunity to sail with a Military charity called ‘Toe In The Water’.

“I was worried and really unsure of how I was going to sail without my legs.”

Despite his concerns Steven embarked on the challenge of mastering how to sail as a disabled person. Taking to the water again gave him a sense of purpose and hope. The only barriers he needed to overcome were in his mind. Sailing helped Steven to prove to himself that it was still possible to partake in the activities he loved and that he could learn to live with the loss of his legs.

“Sailing with Toe In The Water gave me the confidence to push forward with my rehab”.

It was on his first sailing trip with Toe In The Water that Steven met Matt Grier the director of ACF. Matt was a volunteer crew member helping to support the wounded, injured and sick service personal. At this time Matt was the RYA Paralympic Development Coach, Matt was developing a Pathway and looking for future talent, he asked Steven to trial for sailing in the single person class Paralympic boat. The trial led to Steven joining the Paralympic Development Squad.
Eventually Steven switched to sail in a three-person boat within the development team. It was during this time that Steven had his first contact with the Andrew Cassell Foundation. His team sailed with Andy several times benefitting from the support and experience the foundation had to offer.

“ACF has long supported disabled sailors and enabled them to push for better in life”.

Ranked 8th in the world Steven and his team, coached by Matt, narrowly missed out on the opportunity to represent Great Britain in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. Determined to succeed they set their sights on the 2020 Paralympics and continued their campaign. Unfortunately, Paralympic sailing suffered a devastating blow as the IPC ruled it would no longer feature in the Paralympics. Steven and his team found themselves at a loss with their dreams crushed.

“I had a bit of a melt down after finding out we were not going to the games. We received the news that Paralympic sailing was unlikely to exist in the future. I found myself at a loss and my mental health began to deteriorate as my life lost its focus”.

In 2017 Steven represented Great Britain in the Invictus Games he won a silver medal in the 100 meter free style and a bronze in the 50 meter back stroke. After an unsuccessful attempt for the 2018 Invictus Games he decided to put his skills and experience to good use and coached fellow Invictus games athletes in sailing.

“The experience of mentoring disabled sailors for the Invictus Games inspired me to want to develop a career in supporting the development of disabled sailing”.

The Foundation offered the perfect opportunity for Steve to work towards his goal of developing a career in disabled sailing and to continue to compete. Steve attended an RYA racing coach course created by Matt and ACF assembled a crew of disabled and able bodied teammates to race in Cowes week 2018.

“ACF does something that similar charities have not achieved. It truly pushes boundaries and breaks down barriers by building a team of disabled and able-bodied people and allowing them to race on an equal playing field against fully able sailors.”

Enthused by the opportunity ACF had given him to race during Cowes week, along with the realisation that there was little opportunity available for disabled people to compete, Steven decided to focus his efforts and energy in supporting ACF. In return ACF provided Steven the chance to realise his dream of becoming a disabled race coach.

“I feel that I can use my own experience and knowledge to support others. ACF continues to have a huge positive effect on my own mental health”.

Towards the end of 2018 Steven made the decision to fully dedicate his efforts to ACF. He travelled to Cowes twice a month to work with Matt and the trustees to support the coaching and rebranding of the foundation.

In February 2019 Steven became a full-time volunteer sailing coach for ACF and moved to Cowes for the summer. Coaching for ACF gave Steven a life focus and the confidence to achieve his long-term goal. He spent the summer coaching disabled, able bodied and novice sailors helping to prepare a team for Cowes week 2019. Amazingly ACF achieved 2nd place in class.

“ACF has changed my life, it has become more than just sailing, it has had a huge impact on my wellbeing and a positive impact on all areas of my life. I have developed lasting friendships in the wider community. I believe it has the power to build community spirit and break down the prejudice associated with disability and mental health issues. I have witnessed people overcome adversity and grow in confidence through their enjoyment of sailing.”

In September 2019 Steven began a foundation degree in yacht operations he hopes to further his career in the leisure marine industry. Steven is fully committed to the Foundation and hopes to continue his role of supporting ACF as a sailing coach. Without ACF Steven would not be able to realise his dreams of racing in an inclusive environment against able bodied sailors and in turn ACF gives Steven a platform to promote disabled sailing and inspire and support other disabled sailors.

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Andrew Cassell Foundation (Racing for the Disabled) is a Charity in England and Wales: 1057742

Supports people with disabilities (mainly physical & sensory) to take part in yacht racing and cruising and to encourage the integration of sailors with disabilities with able bodied sailors