Getting their chance to sail Cruise: Thanks to boat-owning volunteers, youngsters with disabilities can go sailing on the Severn River the way 'other kids do.'

August 24, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Joy Higgins, 8, squealed with delight when the 40-foot catamaran pulled up to the Annapolis dock. But then she seemed to sadden.

"I can't bring my wheelchair," she said, furrowing her brow.

But that wasn't a problem. Joy was one of about 40 disabled children who, with their families, cruised the Severn River yesterday in an hour-and-a-half excursion courtesy of Easter Seals and sailors who donated their time and boats.

"This is a chance for her to be normal and do things that other kids do," said Joy's mother, Gail Higgins. "I mean, think about it. When you are in a wheelchair, how often can you get on a boat? This is her chance to experience something new."

Boat 'trampolines'

Mike Higgins, a Naval Academy math professor, carried his daughter aboard the Millennium C, a sleek white vessel owned by Brian Williams and Barbara Straub of Alexandria, Va. As soon as Joy saw the boat's "trampolines" -- heavy nets that stretch across the front of it -- she made herself at home.

Laughing, she rolled and bounced on the nets with her brother A. J., 3, and sister Lisa, 10. Joy has cerebral palsy and has had 15 operations since birth to improve her mobility. Her last, in June, improved her ability to crawl and kneel. She can't walk, but she can pull herself up and stand for a few seconds, her mother said.

'She loves this'

The trampoline was great fun -- especially when she rolled over on her stomach and realized there was little space between her and the water.

"I got splashed, I got wet," she yelled as the boat cruised past the Naval Academy and under the Severn River Bridge.

"Lisa, can you see this, can you see this?" she called to her sister, pointing to the water, her brown eyes wide and bright.

"She loves this," Gail Higgins said. "It is not too often that we see her this excited."

'Great experience'

Yesterday's cruise was the last of three summer excursions in the Annapolis-Baltimore-Washington area.

Centreville resident Klaus Liebig came up with the idea six years ago when he and his daughter Julie were driving around the Eastern Shore and became lost. He stopped at Fairly Manor, an Easter Seals camp in Chestertown, for directions.

"It was a great experience for Julie," he said. "She saw kids in wheelchairs for the first time and on the way out, she said: 'Daddy, I want a wheelchair.' Well, how do you explain to a healthy 4-year-old that she does not need a wheelchair?"

Liebig, who once worked at a marina, advertised for boaters. This year, 26 volunteers answered his ads in newspapers and magazines.

Straub said she saw one of Liebig's ads.

"I just thought this would be a nice thing to do," she said. "We love our boat and like to share it with other people."

'He really enjoyed this'

After the cruise, the youngsters were treated to a picnic lunch at Quiet Waters Park.

"I think he really enjoyed this," Jim Winter of Gaithersburg said of his son Kevin, 11, who has cerebral palsy. "He gets a lot of excitement out of it, and he loves the water."

Pub Date: 8/24/98

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