Imagine traveling by car, from Lake Forest to Chicago, to sail in a race and learning one of your crewmates atop Burnham Harbor would be a reigning Paralympic silver medalist.
Will Porter doesn’t have to imagine such a scenario.
The Lake Forest High School senior experienced it last summer before the start of the Independence Cup, a premier regatta — organized by the Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Foundation (JGASF) — for sailors with disabilities.
“My boss [at Lake Forest Sailing] informed me that they needed an able-bodied sailor,” Porter says. “I immediately told him, ‘I’m in.’ ”
The other two sailors in the boat with Porter were Rick Doerr and Charles McClure. Doerr, 56 and a native of Clifton, New Jersey, had captured a silver medal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in the Sonar class (three-person keelboat) at the 2016 Paralympics. The physician, who was paralyzed in a 1992 car accident and became a Disabled Sailing world champion in 2007, is the longest-tenured member of the US Sailing Team.
Doerr, McClure and Porter cruised to first place in the Independence Cup (Sonar division) in late July.
“Rich Doerr is pretty awesome,” says Porter, who has been hooked on sailing since helming an Optimist (dinghy) at the age of 5. “He’s also one of my heroes. I found out how competitive he is and how much he loves to compete. But he’s also a sailor who loves to sail because it’s fun.”
Porter got serious last summer — as a sailing instructor. He taught able-bodied students and, for the first time, disabled students. His first disabled pupil was Barry, a man in his 60s. They navigated together aboard a vessel named Barb, a Freedom 20 sailboat provided by JGASF.
“Barry went straight for the tiller,” Porter says. “I coached him through it. What a great student. He encouraged me to become more involved in teaching after we got out of the boat.”
Kim, a disabled woman in her 20s, took three lessons from Porter. Her father had told her she would get to steer a Sunfish someday, but only if she were to develop the necessary skills.
“Kim loved being on the water, loved learning,” says Porter, a member of the Lake Forest High School sailing team since his freshman year. “Her father had certainly motivated her. Kim wanted to have a good time during the lessons, and I could tell she did. She also wanted to sit down with me on a bench and have me whiteboard instructions for her.”
Porter joined seven others — some in high school, some in college — as JGASF instructors last summer. Youngsters affiliated with the Great Lakes Adaptive Sport Association (GLASA) also received guidance from Porter in sailboats.
“Will was great with kids and with the adults, absolutely great,” says JGASF Executive Administrator Kerry Tarmey. “Not all kids are comfortable being around people with disabilities. That’s not the case with Will. Will jumped right in as a teacher, embracing the opportunities to share his love for sailing and embodying what we’re all about — inclusiveness.”
Porter also spent meaningful time indoors last summer, tutoring children from North Chicago and Zion once a week as a volunteer for Reading Power.
Jibs one day, verbs the next.
Porter is taking trigonometry, psychology, AP environmental science and Latin at LFHS this semester.
“That’s my focus now, working hard in school,” Porter says.
In late December he might find himself on a body of water with a decorated sailor. Again.
“Rick Doerr emailed my dad [Bill],” Porter says. “He invited me to race with him in a World Cup competition [off a coast in Florida). That would be another exciting opportunity.
“We’re considering it.”
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