TOE IN THE WATER announces 2010 racing programme

TOE IN THE WATER’s Chairman, Major General Mike von Bertele OBE launched the charity’s 2010 racing programme today. Building on the success of its first two years of operation, during which more than fifty profoundly and traumatically injured service personnel were inspired through competitive sailing, TOE IN THE WATER aims to race in a number of prestigious competitive events in 2010 including the JP Morgan Round the Island Race and Cowes Week.  TOE IN THE WATER is a non-profit organisation which uses sailing as a vehicle to re-inspire injured servicemen and women, many of whom have been wounded in active service in Afghanistan and Iraq, and who are currently being treated at Headley Court, the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre.

TOE IN THE WATER will be entering eight events in 2010. The programme comprises the RORC Easter Regatta, the J80 National Championships, the J-Cup, the JP Morgan Round the Island Race, Sailing for Heroes Regatta, Cowes Week, the Jersey Regatta and the J80 Autumn Championships.

 The aim of the initiative is simple; to provide injured servicemen and women with a challenging, demanding environment in which they can compete on an equal footing with their peers. Yacht racing provides one of the few arenas in which people with traumatic injuries can compete against and alongside able-bodied people. It is ideal, not least because there is a wide range of different roles onboard, providing different physical and mental challenges. The rehabilitation work at Headley Court is world-leading, and TOE IN THE WATER provides an extension of the process, giving injured servicemen the chance to compete in sailing at a high level, and to improve their self-confidence and outlook on life.

The 2009 Season saw TOE IN THE WATER ambassadors Brian Thompson and Dee Caffari join the Toe crews at Cowes Week and the Dartmouth Regatta.

« Sailing with the TOE IN THE WATER crew was a unique experience for me and one I hope I will repeat in the future. These guys will give everything to be at the front of the fleet. It was true competitive racing at its best, » Caffari said after Dartmouth.

Multiple world record holder Brian Thompson, who has been involved with the initiative since the outset, said:  « Every time I have gone out with TOE IN THE WATER I have been blown away by their talent and aptitude for sailing and their super positive attitude. The TOE IN THE WATER team is dynamic, energetic and making its mark on sailing regattas all over the UK. The charity has brought fun and competition to both the injured servicemen and women, and the volunteers who love to be involved. I am looking forward to racing with them again in 2010. »  

Importantly, TOE IN THE WATER is not about building a permanent injured crew race team and so no individual is allowed to take part in more than three separate TOE IN THE WATER events. Brian explained that this is to ensure that as many people as possible can participate. « The point is to inspire them enough to feel that they can go and face the world again on their terms, whether they get the sailing bug or not, » Brian said.

Most of TOE IN THE WATER’s volunteers who run the project are serving military personnel.  Many of them have served in the locations where the participants sustained their injuries. WO2 Lloyd Hamilton is the Director of Racing, as well as a serving Royal Engineer, and he has recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan. He has seen first-hand how the project has already transformed many lives. « You can see the sense of achievement on their faces when you cross the finish line. I think it helps that I’m in the forces and can understand what they’ve been through, » Lloyd said.

« We understand what drives the guys and the competitive sailing gives them back the sense of team membership and shared focus that they’ve lost, » Lloyd said. But nobody gets an easy ride, regardless of their injuries. « The first thing I tell them when they get on the boat is that we don’t carry passengers, everybody is there with a job to do. It forces them to perform at their best and they get an incredible amount out of it, » he added.

 « From a sailing perspective it has cemented the fact that it really is a sport for anyone from the novice to the expert to enjoy. It also instils a firm belief in team work and the importance of it.  Everyone who has served in the forces will understand that at some point in a military career you will rely upon your comrades alongside you.  This initiative and the results our teams achieve show just how important this factor is. »

TOE IN THE WATER is holding a selection weekend to recruit experienced able-bodied racers to its Core Crew. Volunteers are asked to commit to two events in the upcoming season and are invited to ‘try out’ for a place by attending the weekend (6-7 March 2010). Anyone interested in getting involved in the Core Crew or in fundraising for TOE IN THE WATER should contact info@toeinthewater.org.

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