The following is the September APS Chesapeake Racer Profile, a monthy hi-light in Spinsheet Magazine (written by Molly Winans):
In 1979, after being hit by a car while bicycling and suffering a serious head injury and paralysis, Kevin Detwiler was told he would not sit up or talk again. Thirty years later, he races sailboats.
Born and raised in St. Mary’s, MD where he still resides, Detwiler had the good fortune to have a father who is an engineer capable of modifying the family home for wheelchair accessibility and building rehabilitative tools at home, such as a whirlpool and pool. He was also lucky to connect with a therapeutic riding organization, then called TRY (Therapeutic Riding for Youth). Horseback riding and swimming in warm water enabled Detwiler to have much greater mobility (good motion in one arm, his neck, and torso and some motion in one leg) than the doctors had anticipated.
The doctors’ predictions about his speaking capabilities proved to be wrong as well. While in eighth grade in public school, Detwiler started the Abled Disabled Club and began to speak to seventh graders about what it meant to be disabled. Over the course of four years, he gathered other local disabled people to join him in speaking to seventh graders all over the county—early indicators that he was a natural leader and teacher. He went on to graduate from high school and earn an associates degree from Charles County Community College. Today, Detwiler lives on his own next door to his parents and drives himself to work (in a customized van) as a substitute teacher in St. Mary’s public schools. About eight years ago, Detwiler discovered Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB) and got hooked on sailing. “I love sailing,” he says with his signature Hollywood smile. “Sometimes you have to search for the wind. Then you catch some, and it’s the best feeling just riding the waves.”
Detwiler has been racing in CRAB’s program for five years. CRAB matches sailors of varying abilities and skill levels to make for fair and safe racing. CRAB Regatta Chair Bridget Shea says, “Kevin’s great! He embodies the true spirit of Corinthian sailing. He is always willing to help out, always has a kind word for his competitors, and has worked very hard to improve his sailing and racing skills. Other CRAB racers want to crew for him. That shows that he is not only fun to sail with, but he leads by example.”
Allen Faurot, who has been racing with Detwiler for two seasons, explains how sailing with someone who must remain in the same seat with his feet strapped down can create problems, such as getting clipped by the mainsheet during a gybe. It takes time and practice to work through the kinks as he has with Detwiler and fellow crew Kathleen Sheedy (pictured below). Faurot says, “I enjoy sailing with Kevin. We’ve done really well, especially when we’ve had a good start. That gives him confidence and an extra edge. He works at it… If you’ve already seen his smile, then you get Kevin. It’s also something else to see the love and care of his father, who helps him on the boat. It’s amazing.”
SpinSheet: Who are your best sailing buddies?
Everyone I sail with at CRAB and Allen Faurot.
What are your non-sailing passions?
I can swim all day long.
What do you like to read?
I just finished Christopher Reeve’s book and am reading Cat and Mouse by James Patterson.
Do you have a favorite memory from the 2009 sailing season?
One day was really windy. I told my friends on the dock when I got back, “Now that was a wonderful sail!” It felt so good to find the wind and just let go. It was awesome.
What gear do you depend upon?
My inflatable lifejacket—it’s a lot less bulky than the vests. Luckily, it hasn’t inflated yet! Also, tiller extensions are important because I can’t fully reach. I also bring my own dowel as a footrest. My dad made Velcro straps to keep my feet in place.
What are your sailing goals?
I want to beat Don Backe (CRAB Executive Director).