David Leslie's Story
I have an inherited disability called CMT (Charcot Marie Toothe Syndrome) which is a neuro-muscular condition affecting mainly the legs and hands to varying degrees. I have weaknesses in my calves and hands, but my legs are "wobbly" and my gait, unnatural - to the extent that I was once thrown out of a pub because they thought I was drunk on the dance floor!
Like many people in the world of sailing, I have been messing around in boats since I was a child. Born in Sydney, I learnt to swim as a toddler in Watsons Bay and grew up with a boating and water culture in the genes. I was a child when we followed my fathers business career to Adelaide. He later joined the Royal SA Yacht Squadron, and when I was old enough, signed me up as a junior member.
A nephew of mine with the same condition was refused entry into a notable Sydney bar and had to threaten management with suing for discrimination in order to gain entry. Ahh, the trials of being different in an ignorant society.
Anyway, as a kid, my condition wasn't so obvious - but it was strange that athletics and cricket were not rewarding activities (when you can't run). Football wasn't too bad given that I was tall and could look after myself physically, but swimming? Yes! I couldn't understand why so many of my mates were scared of the water!
Sailing at the Squadron was great and I got my first boat when I was 10 or 11 - an International Cadet class dinghy - and soon I was winning races. I went on to compete in States and Nationals with no great success but often enough to love the sport and to know the potential of sailing as a sport where you could succeed in open competition - despite being different.
I went on (again, like most) to sail performance dinghies like the 505 and then onto keel boats, sailing my first Sydney-Hobart in 1994; the same year as the first SWD entry. I was sailing at the top of offshore sailing in Adelaide with Geoff Boettcher (Secret Mens Business) but I was starting to follow the exploits of Sailors with disABILITIES from afar. There was a natural empathy for the cause.
I'm a medical radiographer and I specialise in radiation safety and education services. This is what brought me to Sydney in 2000 to start up a consultancy. It was through sailing and professional contacts that I was introduced to David Pescud and SWD.
"They're always looking for people with a disability who know what they're doing on a boat!".
So I started doing the odd Twilight race which then went on to Saturdays and then back to offshore. In 2003, I did my first SWD Hobart Race.
My wife and I are still involved in sailing 13 years later and still appreciating the mateship and long-term friendships that have grown through David and SWD. It is impossible to quantify the joy and rewards of giving so many kids and adults the potential to engage in a life without limits.