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Para Sailors Prepare to Represent the U.S. in the Sailing World Championships

Jun 20, 2023 |

By Jewel Connelly, Communications Specialist

Only a few select sports allow men and women to compete against each other, and even fewer abled-bodied and para-athletes. Sailing enables everyone to compete on the same playing field or body of water in this case. Because sailing is not currently a paralympic sport, the biggest competition in para sailing is the Sailing World Championships which will be held this year in The Hague, Netherlands, August 8-20. 2023 is a historic year for the sport because, for the first time, the Para World Sailing events will sail world championships alongside Olympic contenders. With the championships less than two months away, the five-person U.S. para sailing team has already been selected. It will feature two amputees: John Seepe in the International 2.4 Meter and Jim Thweatt in the Hansa 303 Men’s Division.   

John’s passion for racing sailboats started well before he became an amputee. Racing a variety of sailboats on the West Coast, John even ran a U.S. Navy Sailing Team for three years while serving on the USS Nimitz. In November 2018, he was involved in a car accident and became an above-knee amputee. A memorable outing on the water with Stars + Stripes Team USA set up by his employer, Virgin Orbit, ultimately gave John the confidence he needed to return to sailing – a lot quicker than most expected, thanks to a fellow sailor named Jim! Although he had never met John, Jim invited him to a para sailing event at the Coronado Yacht Club (Coronado, California). He decided to sign up for the regatta and took second place in the Hansa 303 just a month after losing his leg. Then four months later, he secured first place in a race in San Francisco, California.  

 Although starting para sailing in the Hansa 303, John prefers and competes in the 2.4-meter classification, a technical one-person keelboat with up to 16 lines for adjustments. John chooses to sail without the inconvenience of a prosthetic, but he is currently in the process of receiving an osseointegration implant. Boasting an active international sailing schedule, John will compete at the 2.4-meter Worlds 2023 in Tampere, Finland, which ends just days before the Sailing World Championships begin.   

Like John, Jim was already active before losing his leg below the knee in a motorcycle accident in high school. He began sailing in college and would alternate between winter skiing racing and summer sailing. Working as a Physical Therapist at his sports medicine clinic, Jim had the opportunity to attend the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta when sailing made its debut. That sparked his interest in pursuing sailing beyond recreational use, so he began competing in 2000 and never looked back.   

With access to many Hansa 303’s up and down the coast of California, Jim enjoys competing in that boat and the challenge of its simplicity. “The Hansas are easy boats to learn to sail in, and they’re a lot tougher to run at an elite level because you don’t have all these lines to make adjustments,” he said. “You have to find the wind, trim your sails, and stay consistently within the groove. Otherwise, the boat won’t go fast enough to be able to be an elite sailor. So even though the Hansa 303 is not technically as advanced, the competition is as heavy.” Jim will also compete in the 2023 Hansa Class World Championship this October in Portimão, Portugal.   

Both teammates agree that for amputees and people with other disabilities, sailing has a very low barrier to entry because of the inclusivity of the sport. Although sailing is typically associated with wealth, keelboats like the ones John and Jim race are much more reasonably priced and portable than larger sailboats. “You can haul the Hansa 303 in the back of your truck, and it’s not a boat that you have to have two or three of,” Jim said.   

With the availability of adaptive sailing programs across the country, it’s the perfect opportunity to get out on the water and participate in a sport regardless of your level of mobility. “The excitement for us is being able to get more people to realize the opportunities that are out there and take advantage of them,” John shared. From their first race to representing the country on the international stage, John and Jim invite you to set sail and discover the wonderful community of para sailing.   

Learn more about the U.S. para sailing team and consider helping them reach their fundraising goal for the Sailing World Championships. If you’re interested in learning more about adaptive sailing, visit U.S. Sailing’s website to get started.