For the three crew members of the Out Patient, today's 49th annual Newport Beach-to-Ensenada sailboat race means more than just a competition. It symbolizes their independence.
"There's a certain gratification to harness the powers of nature," said Duncan Milne, 49, skipper of the 30-foot boat, which the crew sailed from Long Beach to Newport Beach on Thursday.
The trio--Milne, Bob Case and Tammie Latterell--have much in common. They are all military veterans, they all enjoy sailing, and they all have physical disabilities.
"I learned that just because you have a handicap you don't have to sit in an armchair and watch life go by," said Case, 43, a former Marine drill sergeant and chief of prosthetics of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Long Beach.
Case lost his left ankle and foot in a shotgun accident a decade ago. He wears a prosthetic lower leg.
As the boat sailed past a group of seals frolicking near a buoy, Case added, "You get a sense of independence and self-reliance out here."
He is the most mobile of the three, so he moves around the boat making any adjustments necessary for smooth sailing.
"He does the legwork," Latterell, 34, said with a smile.
Thursday's four-hour trip was a warmup exercise for today's 125-mile Ensenada race, which casts off at noon from Newport Harbor. The crew has sailed together before, but not for several months.
Latterell, an Army veteran who now works for the National Service Office for Paralyzed Veterans of America, became a paraplegic after a gun accident in Louisiana.
Though she is the least experienced of the Out Patient's crew, she held her position like a seasoned sailor, controlling winches and ropes for the mainsail.
For eight years, Milne has invited people with disabilities to sail with him.
"I mostly take in-patients," said the Vietnam combat veteran, who owns a medical management firm and was injured in a motorcycle accident 19 years ago.
After the 1988 Olympics, when he competed in the World Cup, he founded a program called Access to Sailing in Newport Beach.
Two years later, he moved the nonprofit organization to Huntington Beach and eventually to Long Beach. From there, he takes about 600 people a year on his sailing excursions, including youngsters from groups such as the Crippled Children's Society.
"My love for sailing developed from sailing with Duncan," Case said. "By sailing, we've learned to concentrate on our abilities and not on disabilities."