Adaptive sailing program opens up lake of opportunities for the physically impaired

Beautiful scenery, serenity, the challenge of nature: there’s a lot to love about sailing on Lake Michigan. But most of the sailors taking part in the Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Program said this wasn’t their sport of choice.

"It scared me. It really scared me. I don’t have balance, and I’m paralyzed from the chest down," said Candy Herrick.

Herrick was struck by a car that turned into her as she was riding a bike, injuring her spinal cord in 2016. Before the accident, she was a runner, competitive and always on the go. After the accident, she was determined to stay active.

"The big question is always ‘now what?’ A lot of it is ‘what can I do?’ And a bigger part of that even, is ‘what is available?’" Herrick said.

After some investigating, she found Judd Goldman's program and headed to the dock at Burnham Harbor. The program has 20 boats, either modified or built specifically for people with disabilities, offering them a greater sense of self-esteem and independence.

There’s special equipment to help people board. On the boat, there are seats and straps to keep people stable and, if needed, crew members to help them set sail.

"I'm tacking now, so I'm going to push the tiller away from me and go into the wind," Herrick explained as she began to turn the boat around.

Herrick said she was surprised that she found an affinity for sailing.

"It's an amazing view every time on the water, and you’re constantly challenging yourself, because every day on the water is different," Herrick said.

The program was started 34 years ago, by the family of Judd Goldman, whose rare bone disease prevented him from participating in other sports.

"He would be very excited to know we have a program for people who have heretofore never sailed before in their life," said Peter Goldman, President of Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Program.

Partnerships, donations and volunteers such as Sarah Gilbert help keep the program afloat.

"I think we meet everyone where they’re at. Everybody can do something on the boat," Gilbert said.

She began as a participant after developing autoimmune and connective tissue disease. But unlike most participants, she brought 40 years of sailing and sailboat racing experience to the program.

"When I used to race, there was yelling. Everyone’s much more aggressive. Down here, everyone’s really friendly, we’re very competitive, but everyone’s like, 'Wow that was great.' The community down here is wonderful."

That community is growing, in numbers and on a personal level.

"This is just another opportunity for me to evolve as a person, right? Because we all evolve," Herrick said.

She’s evolving as a sailor, too.

"Candace is doing outstanding," said volunteer instructor Brian Bell. "Sailing is definitely a great equalizer because regardless of level of disability, once you’re on the boat, you’re a sailor. You’re’ as equal as anybody else."

"It’s so refreshing," said Gilbert. "I get home and I feel so much better. There’s definitely a mental health aspect. Any day out on the water is beautiful."

What started as a tribute to Goldman’s dad has grown into so much more.

"I do get a great feeling, knowing that we’ve been involved with the lives of these people and helped them in a way that maybe they didn’t expect to be helped," Goldman said.

"Everybody that I meet on the boat, all the other participants I meet on the boat, they’re amazing," said Herrick about her fellow sailors. "They’re friends I’ll always have for life. I’m in for good."

The Judd Goldman Adaptive sailing program is a 501c charitable foundation where no one is turned away. If you’d like to sign up for lessons, or donate to the program, go to