Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Living the Dream

May 1, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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The 60-foot catamaran Impossible Dream sits high in the water with sloping curves and an expansive deck. Owned by philanthropist and paraplegic Deborah Mellen, the carbon-fiber vessel is one of the most accessible boats in the world — it’s designed to be fully operational by someone in a wheelchair.

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“And she goes,” says Mellen, recalling a recent sail in nearly 30 knots of wind. Mellen hadn’t ever sailed before she lost the use of her legs in a car crash in her late 2os. She took up the sport later in life, and ended up volunteering at Shake-a-Leg Miami, an international adaptive sailing program that has been operating in Biscayne Bay for more than two decades. Last year, Mellen purchased Impossible Dream for the organization to use in its programs and training courses.

In June, the Impossible Dream will set sail on a voyage to New York to spread the word about adaptive sailing and reach out to seaside communities along the way.

“You wouldn’t believe the kind of attention we get when we pull up to the dock and there are four sailors in wheelchairs aboard getting the dock lines ready,” says Mellen. “That’s what it’s all about. When we draw attention to the boat — to ourselves — we change perceptions about disabilities.”

living the dream 3Mellen will sail the boat up the coast with two able-bodied sailors and Shake-a-Leg Founder Harry Horgan, who is also a paraplegic.

“It’s a journey of discovery and engagement,” says Horgan. “We’re hoping to inspire people in different communities where we stop on how design and technology can make boating accessible to people regardless of their abilities.”

Impossible Dream was designed and built by Mike Browne, a paraplegic sailor who had the dream of creating a vessel that could sail the oceans and be fully operational by a person in a wheelchair. After its construction in 2001 he sailed throughout the Mediterranean and embarked on voyages that traversed the Atlantic. In 2009, sailor Geoff Holt used Impossible Dream to be the first quadriplegic to sail across the Atlantic.

living the dream 4After purchasing Impossible Dream, Mellen started a nonprofit of the same name to engage the global community and inspire people with disabilities. A big part of their mission is to sail the boat throughout the Americas and partner with individuals and organizations with a similar mission. Once in New York, the boat will be welcomed by New York City’s Disabilities Commissioner Victor Calise, according to Mellen. Impossible Dream will also partner with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the Allen T. Brown Foundation, and Wheeling Forward, another nonprofit that seeks to help people with disabilities enjoy life to the fullest.

“We’re planning on doing a lot of group outings,” says Mellen. “We want to get a lot of kids out and introduce them to the boat and the sport.”

Mellen grew up on Long Island, and currently resides in New York City. She said she’s looking forward to having the boat home and getting her family out. After spending time in New York Harbor, Impossible Dream will likely venture on to Boston, Newport, and Martha’s Vineyard.

For more information or to get involved visit

By Eric Voorhis

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