Mike Wood, paralysed from the chest down and confined to a wheelchair is a man with a mission. He is not a man who takes a challenge lying down. Seriously injured in a motor cycle accident back in 1978, he spent some time living what the doctor ordered; 'a quiet life', but always having been an active man,
he became frustrated with the lack of facilities for disabled people and he began mastering new activities.
'I like getting things done,' he explained. 'It's a great motivator.'
Never argue motivation with a man who went on to become a national archery champion and represented Britain at the shot put, discuss, javelin and triathlon. He retired from all these sports holding handfuls of medals and records in his events.
Fishing Club; no accessible lakes so build a couple.
Off Road Vehicles; set up a training and insurance scheme so disabled people can use them.
International Dinghy Racing; build special seats to race Hobie Cat against able-bodied people.
Mountain Bikes; build special 'go anywhere' electric bikes.
Go-Kart Racing; develop hand controls for National and International events.
Sports Cars; make them accessible and affordable.
Radio Controlled Car Racing; international events.
National Magazine for disabled sports.
Websites for other charities, to name but a few of his activities
And so to Sailing
A heat wave stopped activities at a sports event and to cool down Mike was offered an afternoon's dinghy sailing in which he describes himself as being 'plonked in the dinghy' with the words "Just bring it back when you're finished." He was hooked! Sailing gave him a sense of freedom he had not felt since his accident. In the right boat, sailing was a level playing field and he could compete with able-bodied people and this led Mike into Dinghy Racing on a regular basis.
Mike said he quickly discovered that the opportunities for people with disabilities to go sailing were not as broad as he'd believed. 'It was incredible.' he said, "As we researched, we found more and more people with disabilities who wanted to try this, but who hadn't had the chance so far.
Then came a life-changing event; a Sailing Adventure Weekend. Four single seat sailing dinghies set off for three days sailing exploring the coastline of the Solent, using two 40 foot cruising yachts as 'home'. Leaving his wheelchair on the beach for three days, being lifted in and out of high speed RIBs and on and off yachts, humping round on his backside on the yachts and struggles with inaccessible toilets was eclipsed by the sailing.
Mike says that being paralysed from the chest down, not able to get out of the boat by yourself and sailing a 14 foot dinghy in fog, out of sight of land and other boats with just a compass is quite sobering. The silence, the boat and the freedom; the first time being really truly alone since his accident. There were no mobile phones in those days. He was completely on his own. Mike realised if he could deal with this he could deal with anything. So many times he had heard people say that something should be done to help disabled people and he decided he could do it, so he should do it.
Everyone smiled when Mike said he wanted to build a yacht that a wheelchair user could sail by himself - poor disillusioned disabled man. The RYA said 'no demand', the UK Lottery said 'too ambitious'.
Red rag to a bull?
Frustrated, then angry, then very, very determined, Mike set up a charity and raised £250,000 – enough to build their first vessel, the Verity K.
"She's the world's first completely wheelchair-accessible ocean-going yacht," Mike explained. "In the first year, we hoped we would take 250 users to make the project viable. That year, the project had 496 visitors, proving that the market for sailing was there among people with disabilities."
Another quarter of a million pounds of fundraising later, the project was ready to begin its next big investment – the development of The Spirit of Scott Bader, a catamaran 'light air yacht' which would be entirely accessible, as Verity K was, to people with all kinds of disabilities.
Mike has now raised over £3,000,000 to fund sailing for disabled people in the UK and provides sailing for 2,000 people every year. He has now set his sights on the Mar Menor, arguably one of the best sailing sites in the world.
Mike is looking for volunteers to help set up the facilities and get the boats and equipment he has already brought to Los Alcazares into action.
For more information go to www.disabledsailing.org