Today: Ed Gallagher: A blind man who sails the San Francisco Bay.
Ed now 60 years of age, for 20 years had been a successful San Francisco commercial property builder and home builder. In his spare time, he was an avid sailor.
But unfortunately 19 years ago, Ed began to lose his eye sight to a viral infection, CMV retinitis. As his blindness grew worse, he was eventually forced to retire.
Three years ago Ed completely lost his sight.
But Ed could still sail for 12 years ago, he joined the Bay Area Association for Disabled Sailors (BAADS) which offers special services and boats, designed to allow paraplegic and quadriplegic sailors to sail solo.
While the program was not tailored to blind people, it still let him sail with others and to enjoy their friendships.
But Ed wanted to captain his own boat again and as he grew blind he needed something new to accomplish that bold goal. He and two of his BAADS friends went to work on it.
One of those friends, BAADS member Paul Walker had become a wheelchair bound paraplegic when a man with a 44 Magnum pistol suddenly went on a shooting rampage in a North Carolina restaurant, wounding Paul and killing or wounding others.
Paul understood Ed’s problems and limitations and wanted to help him and together they involved another friend.
That friend was Dr. Richard Baldwin, a psychiatrist and a BAADS volunteer. In 2006- 2007 the three of them came up with a remarkable approach. They paired a laptop computer, cell phones and a bulky video camera attached to a bike helmet to form a remote guidance system.
It looked odd, but it worked! Now Ed and his devoted and loving guide dog Genoa could sail with Ed as captain and Genoa as his first mate. On shore, a volunteer such as Paul or Richard would view the streaming video and guide Ed.
Today, with technology’s advance, it’s simpler and much more attractive. Their remote guidance system includes webcam embedded sunglasses, a tiny Asustek netbook computer and Wi-Fi, as well as today’s smarter cell phones.
With Genoa, who is a loving and gentle 80 pound, 10 year old Golden Lab Retrieve Mix, who Ed calls “the prettiest dog in the world,” they fearlessly sail his 36 foot sailboat in the rough currents and choppy waters of the San Francisco Bay.
When they sail, Genoa takes her place at the front of the boat and she and Ed can feel the brisk winds and the sunshine and smell the fresh salt air as his boat swashes freely through the swells giving him a sense of independence that eluded him not long ago.
And thanks to a firm Ed created, Genoa Services, he now has 12 human guides he can call upon, including two in Europe, to assist him by viewing the streaming video and providing guidance.
Through Genoa Services, the technology advances continue and he pairs other blind people with volunteers who, using his remote guidance system, guide the blind in essential tasks.
For example, without this help, even with an intelligent guide dog, blind people can’t easily go grocery shopping because they can’t find the merchandise they want on store shelves, read the pricing, nor the expiration dates or count change or get a sales clerk. Now they can and they can enjoy a greater sense of safety and independence.
To be sightless and dependent on a guide dog is difficult. To have someone to offer occasional guidance through a headset is a godsend.
But all of these possibilities began with Ed and Genoa as sailors, yet it’s not just them who sail.
Among those who are helped by the disabled and able-bodied volunteers of BAADS are troubled teenagers, prisoners and homeless people who suddenly have positive camaraderie and the joy of sailing on the Bay or even out on the open sea.
Ed and Genoa sometimes sail with two special friends. One is 64 year old Joy, a lady who has been blind for 50 years and is a “hell of a sailor,” according to Ed. The other is Joy’s guide dog Pinkie, an eight year old Golden Lab.
“We are very close friends; everyone thinks we should get married …” said Ed, who has never been married and likes his independence.
These days, aside from Genoa Services and sailing, how does Ed spend his time?
For the 7th consecutive year, BAADS has put him in charge as the Commodore. In those seven years, the former builder has grown the sailing fleet from just 3 dinghies to 24 vessels of various sizes in order to accommodate the needs of all those who want to sail.
Organizations such as BAADS provide disabled people with a greater sense of purpose as they are needed by others, no longer homebound, isolated and alone, feeling forgotten. It also offers friendships and something special for them to look forward to each day.
Or as Ed said, “In one way, I’m glad I’ve gone blind. Being blind is isolating and makes life difficult but through BAADS, it is such a wonderful experience, how it improves people’s lives for both the disabled and able-bodied volunteers.”
Success Tip of the Week:
If you or a family member or friend is disabled, are there organizations in your area such as BAADS and Genoa Services that can help? Or alternatively, if you are able bodied, are there organizations where you may volunteer? If not, might you start an organization?
Thank you to Ed Gallagher who was interviewed at length for this piece. To learn more about Genoa Services, please visit: http://genoaservices.org/, where you will also see his picture. To learn more about BAADS please see: http://www.baads.org/
In the next KazanToday:
How a man who was orphaned at 4 and whose schooling only went as far as the 3rd grade: built a fortune. He later used it to uplift others in need.
Thank you as well to The Wall Street Journal for their front page piece: “Remote Control: A Blind Man Goes Sailing With Help From Afar,” 9/14/10 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704358904575477612698984010.html