Park City Sailing offers a second wind in life |

Park City Sailing offers a second wind in life

Registration for 2018 sessions open now

From left: Park City Sailing Vice President Ken Block, Park City Sailing sailor Shannon Walton, George Conklin and Joan Conklin share a moment on the water at the Jordanelle Reservoir.
(Photo by Scott Vermeriss)

Park City Sailing started 10 years ago by a group of sailors who wanted to race Laser boats once or twice a week at Jordanelle.

Since then the nonprofit has started up various programs that serve the greater Park City and Summit County area, said Ken Block, vice president and board member of Park City Sailing.

“The program began to evolve, because this community is ridiculously receptive of ways to recreate,” Block said during an interview with The Park Record. “We created a junior program and then we started adult lessons.”

Things changed dramatically for Park City Sailing five years ago with a donation of high-end racing boats and the organization’s relationship with fellow nonprofit, the National Ability Center.

The National Ability Center is dedicated to “empowering individuals of all abilities by building self-esteem, confidence and lifetime skills through sport, recreation and educational programs,” according to its mission statement.

“We took a group of women in the military who were dealing with the trauma of sexual harassment,” Block said. “We had a remarkable afternoon on the water, and my wife (Chris Hartley) looked at me and said, ‘The game’s changed.’ And by that, she meant was that she saw we could use our boats to do more than race and give lessons. We could use our boats to do good deeds.”

This led to Park City Sailing creating a new program called Out Reach, which is a term sailors refer to as a point of sail.

“Out Reach began as an introduction of a new fleets of boats to the community and quickly became our most active program,” Block said. “So a year ago, Scott VerMerris (Park City Sailing director of adult education) and I became certified adaptive instructors.”

Recently several other Park City Sailing volunteers acquired verifications and certifications that were provided by U.S. Sailing Association, which is the national governing body for the sport of sailing.

“We didn’t want to be looked at anything less than a program that offers the highest quality level of instruction,” Block said.

In 2017 Out Reach has severed more than 600 participants including those who are visual impaired and have been diagnosed with diabetes, anxiety or autism. The program also serves those who suffer from traumatic brain injury, amputations, chronic illness and substance dependency.

“While your sailing skills need to be unquestionable, we know that people who are involved with this program have very unique interpersonal skills,” Block said. “This is important because we are working with people with addictions, or a child with OCD and anxiety.”

This year, Dr. William Marchand, chief of psychiatry and associate chief of mental health at the George E. Wahlen Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City.

“He said he sails and would like to start a sailing group,” Block said. “We told him we have one and would love to have a psychiatrist on board with us.”

Park City Sailing starts sailing the first week in May and sail until the end of September, Block said.

While confidentiality is key in these programs, there are some who agree to tell the story.

One of those participants is George Conklin, a mechanical engineer and graduate of MIT, who worked on NASA’s Apollo space program, who gave Block permission to share his story.

Conklin has Parkinson’s Disease and has been in hospice care for the past year and a half.

He and his wife Joan had a wish to go sailing, which was something he did when he was younger, Block said.

“We took George out and it was a very windy day,” Block said. “He doesn’t have a lot of upper core strength, so my sailing partner Shannon Walton, who was a whitewater guide, did most of the lifting.”

The Conklins told Block and Walton stories about their lives, their travels and enjoyed being out on the water.

“We were out there for nearly three hours,” Block said. “It was great to see.”

A few days ago, Block called the Conklins and Joan told him her husband was still going on about the session.

“I kept thinking to myself how could I be so fortunate to have an experience like this?” Block said.

Registration for Park City Sailing’s 2018 season is now open. To register, visit this website.

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