Rick Doerr (from left), Tim Angle and Bill Donohue represent the U.S. Paralympic sailing team in the three-person keelboat class competition.
Rick Doerr (from left), Tim Angle and Bill Donohue represent the U.S. Paralympic sailing team in the three-person keelboat class competition. Craig LeMoult/NPR
Angle uses his teeth to tie knots.
Angle uses his teeth to tie knots. Craig LeMoult/NPR
Angle (left) controls the mainsail, while Donohue works the jib and other control lines.
Angle (left) controls the mainsail, while Donohue works the jib and other control lines. Craig LeMoult/NPR
The 2008 Paralympic Games are under way in Beijing. The 11-day event offers competition from around the world among athletes with physical disabilities in 20 Olympic sports.
Tim Angle, Bill Donohue and Rick Doerr represent the U.S. Paralympic sailing team in the three-person keelboat or Sonar class. Any sailor will tell you that getting a boat ready to hit the water involves a lot of preparation — and that means tying a lot of knots. But just imagine undertaking the challenge with only one arm.
"One of the things you'll notice is that I use my teeth for a lot of things," Tim Angle says, from the deck of a white 23-foot, 8-inch Sonar-class sailboat.
"With only one hand to actually operate stuff, you've got to be able to hold things at the same time as you're actually working on them."
Angle is 30 years old and a native of Marblehead, Mass. He has a goatee; wears wraparound sunglasses and a U.S. Sailing Team T-shirt. He was recently rigging the boat up for a day of practice on Long Island Sound.
Angle is missing his left arm, as well as several fingertips on his right hand. He says what a skilled sailor with two arms could do in five minutes, takes him about half an hour.
"Actually, I kind of find it relaxing," he says.
"Just to chill out and sort of work on a little problem for a while. I like to tinker, so actually having one arm is in a way more fun, because you have to figure out new ways to tinker."
Angle first went sailing when he was 2 1/2 weeks old and has been on boats ever since. He was on the sailing team at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, but his arm was amputated in his freshman year after he contracted bacterial meningitis.
Bill Donohue, of Brick, N.J., is missing his right leg below the knee as a result of an accident. He's 56 years old and has been a sailor his whole life. He says he was reluctant to try disabled sailing.
"To be honest with you, I thought that the quality of sailing wouldn't be there," he says.
"And when I raced my first disabled race, I got very turned around to that aspect, because I saw what a bunch of fantastic sailors they were — as good as any able-bodied sailor out there."
Chaos And Coordination
Out on the water, coach Betsy Alison rides alongside in a small motorboat, blowing a whistle and barking instructions. From here, the sailboat looks graceful, the white sail glowing in the sun and swinging back and forth as the sailors guide the boat.
But on the sailboat, it's a different, more hectic reality.
Rick Doerr, the skipper, calls out instructions from the stern. The 47-year-old from Clifton, N.J., lost the use of his legs in a car accident about 16 years ago Just before the boat turns and the boom swings overhead, he grabs a bar that runs across the back of the boat with both hands and pulls himself from one side to the other, across a bench that's designed for paraplegic skippers.
In the middle of the boat is Tim Angle, controlling the mainsail, pulling a line that's wrapped around his one, scarred hand.
In the bow, Donohue balances on his one foot, using both hands to work the jib, or sail at the front of the boat, as well as the other control lines.
Seven countries have a solid chance to medal in sailing at this year's Beijing Paralympics, Angle says, and his team is hoping to win one for the United States.
Craig LeMoult reports for member station WSHU in Fairfield, Conn.