Growing up in Minnesota you pretty much spend your life on the water, from a summer swim in the lake, to winter games of pond hockey. But in all my years living in the land of ten thousand lakes, I’ve never learned to sail. But that would change after a weekend on the Potomac with Terrel Limerick.
One of my favorite things to do when I go home to Minnesota is watch the sailboats glide along Lake Calhoun. There’s something about seeing the boats skim across the water that makes me want to hop aboard and take sailing lessons. But for me, boats have always been associated with Dramamine and saltine crackers and because of this, I’ve pretty much spent my life docked. So when I got a chance to meet World Games bound sailor Terrel Limerick this past June, I was excited to finally learn about the sport that I had always admired from afar. What I didn’t expect though, was that Terrel would end up teaching me more about life than sailing.
When I first met Terrel I was met with a contagious smile, one that made me feel like the two of us have been friends for years. Diagnosed with an intellectual disability as a toddler, Terrel has had to face challenges that many of us can never imagine. With the help of Special Olympics he has found ways to navigate life’s obstacles with the same ease he navigates the wind. It’s with a smile and sense of humor that Terrel takes on life’s challenges. He reminds those around him that although life can be hard at times, a smile can sometimes make it a little more tolerable. And as the weekend went on, it became clear that I wasn’t the only one inspired by Terrel’s outlook on life. Everywhere we went Terrel was surround by friends and family, all there to support him as he prepares for one of the biggest events of his life.
In a few days Terrel will travel to Los Angles where he’ll make history as the first US sailor to ever compete at the highest level of competitive sailing offered at the Special Olympics World Games. He’ll be sailing against the best of the best and he’ll be doing it on a Laser boat, one of the most difficult boats to sail. But that doesn’t seem to faze Terrel. While most of us would be anxious to compete on the world stage, Terrel is as calm as that windless day we spent on the Potomac. Ask if he’s at all nervous and he’ll remind you of the fact that “he can do anything.” And there is no doubt that he will do it with a smile.
Terrel taught me a lot about sailing that weekend. I learned all about the different types of boats, different levels of competition and what to do after you’ve capsized. But more importantly, I learned that like the wind, sometimes life is beyond our control. It can blow you around a bit, knock you down, turn you around, and sometimes blow you in a direction you never expected. And when that happens you can either let it get the best of you or, like Terrel, you can learn how to adjust your sails and enjoy the ride.