blog banner
Paralyzed Sailors Race to Alaska

Paralyzed Sailors Race to Alaska


(wind blowing) (rope rattling) – It’s pretty light out for 3:30 in the morning. We just passed the border
of Canada into the US. So, super light winds. (creaking) – We making any headway? – [Zachary] No. One-five, but it’s on and off. – I’ve heard a lot of
chatter about me and Zach. And they’re like, oh, and they’re paralyzed from the waist down. That would be awesome if we were ever just paralyzed from the waist down. (water splashing) We have very limited bodily
function to work with. From my two armpits, I have no control. No function. We’re okay to sail
through the world though. – [Zachary] What’s that? You’re okay to sail through the world? – [Zachary] Ah, yeah. (calm music) This is my church. Alaska, here we come. (dramatic music) – [Narrator] The Race to Alaska, is a boat race like no other in the world. (water splashing) The journey spans 750 miles. From Washington state,
up the entire coastline of British Columbia, to Ketchikan
in southeastern Alaska. It’s a grueling race where
motors are not allowed. (splashing) Boats must navigate a remote wilderness through frigid, unforgiving waters. Narrow channels fill with
logs and rip currents. Open ocean and mountainous swells. It can rain for days on end. And help is remote. If you get into trouble, the coast guard is at least a half day away. (dramatic music) Outside support is strictly forbidden. And if a team member quits,
they cannot be replaced. – Last year we had 35 teams that were trying to get all the way to Ketchikan. Only fifteen of those teams finished. The rest of them gave up when they just got tired of the misery I think. (suspenseful music) – [Narrator] This is Team Alula. A crew of three. Zachary Tapec of Hawaii. Bruno Hansen of South Africa. And the captain, Spike Kane,
originally from Liverpool. All three are adventurers and surfers. They met while competing
against one another, on the adaptive surfing circuit. – [Spike] Are you clipped in bro?
Sometimes that competitive spirit lingers – Be decisive with your decisions. – I did, I gave you– – I’m a man of action, I
get the fucking job done. – Alright action man. – [Narrator] But this
team shares the same goal. They’re the first all paralyzed team to attempt the Race to Alaska. And they wanna be the first to finish it. – Race to Alaska, would be a significant accomplishment for an able-bodied person. For someone with the physical limitations that that team has, it’s
incredibly impressive. – We’ve got nothing to prove,
so we don’t have to say, hey we’re in wheelchairs
and we wanna do this. We’re not a novelty act. We’re so far from being a novelty act. – We’ve proved to ourselves
we can do anything we want. It just takes us a little bit longer to do the same thing that
everyone else can do. We can do it. (yelling and cheering) – Being in the chair is a constant struggle every single day. I think that’ll help greatly in this trip. Even if we are cold and wet and hungry, none of us will complain about it. We’re just used to living a bit rough. – [Crowd] Three, two, one, go! (cheering and yelling) (suspenseful music) – [Jake] Racers have to
start a Le Mans start. Which means they have
to race to their boat, get onboard, and row out of the harbor. – [Bruno] We might all be
completely mad, what we’re doing. Completely stupid what we’re going into. But, you know fortune favors the brave. So, here we go. (suspenseful music) – [Zachary] When people say I
can’t do this, can’t do that, it kind of feels like I
need to prove’em wrong. Watch me do it. Watch me smile while I do it. Watch me crush it. Watch me master whatever
you told me I can’t do. – [Spike] This was a fast boat, but we’re running really heavy. ‘Cause the three of us are disabled, we have to bring extra gear with us. – Talk to me, talk to me, talk to me baby. There we go. – [Spike] I know that we’re a bit slower. We’ve got a conservative rig going. We didn’t bring any big head sails. You push a boat, things are gonna break. You gotta deal with them quickly. If we push this boat and
things break, we’re in trouble. – [Spike] I’ve been sailing
in these waters for 28 years. I was originally trained
as a wooden boat builder. One of my dreams has always
been to sail the Inside Passage. All the way up to Alaska. – Tell me when. – [Spike] As soon as I
heard about the race, I immediately wanted to do it. – Okay, you guys ready? (ropes flapping and winding) – Clearly, it’s my boat,
so I’ll be the skipper. Bruno has the most experience
out of the two for sailing. So he’ll be, essentially first mate. He’s got all of his core in his abs. He can sit up without support. So he’s got a lot of power. Let it out a bit. Let it out a bit, ’til it catches. I have absolutely no core. Zach is the same. But Zach is the essential crew member that helps out with everything. Whatever’s needed. That’s good and set? That’s good. He’s just got these qualities that I see in a person, that
I know I wanna be around. (water splashing) I knew I wanted a crew of three. – Ten knots. – [Spike] And I knew I wanted them all to be wheelchair-bound. (suspenseful music) I was injured in 2005. – [Bruno] I had my back
broken 17 years ago. – [Zachary] I was 16 years old. A sophomore in high school. – [Spike] I was riding, my
motorbike downtown Seattle. And a guy sitting at the red light drove right through his
red light and hit me. – [Bruno] In South Africa, I had a motorcar roll over me basically. That’s what snapped my spine. I’m completely paralyzed
from the waist down. – [Zachary] I dove into a
buddy’s pool, fracturing a C6. I lost everything from my neck down. – [Bruno] I was the captain of a beautiful big yacht in Indonesia. Surfing the best waves in the world. Earning good money. You know, that was all
just taken away overnight. – [Spike] I almost lost my house, ’cause I was clearly unable to work. But I think I gained more. (winding and knocking) (dramatic music) The thing that I’m really the most excited for, is witnessing Zach and Bruno experience this for the first time. This is the most beautiful
sailing terrain in the world. And it gets more stunning
the further north you go. – The aching begins. A long night of rowing last night. You know, being injured
at such a young age, kind of forced me to have
responsibility early in life. – Thank you sir. – [Zachary] I remember
laying in the hospital bed, and my mom asked me, hey we’re gonna go grab something to eat,
do you want anything? And my answer to her was, yeah go grab me some McDonalds and grab me a gun. She backhanded me. Don’t ever say that again. So, from there on out, I knew it wasn’t an option to exit out early. – [Spike] Just get it off that winch. – [Zachary] The way I see
it is, if I can keep my mind off the struggles I have everyday, I don’t have time to think
about being in a wheelchair. – [Bruno] Anchor time. I’m probably the workhorse,
physically, on this trip. They’ve broken their necks. I broke my back. – I’m very concerned about the way the wind is blowing straight onto shore. – See Spike, I pull the main over, and then it would swing
the back around even more. – That’s what’s happening. That’s what’s happen right now though. That’s the way we wanna
be pointing, right? – [Bruno] But, you know, if Spike is the captain, will
be the decision maker. And his decision will be the final say. If it were me mate. If it were my boat. – Bruno, let’s just go. Let’s get ready to go. – You’re telling me, I’m
gonna (mumbled crosstalk) – [Spike] I just said get ready to go. Okay, Zach, go. Let me get some wind in there too. (ropes winding) Bruno, don’t ever not tell me what to do. – Don’t ever, not… (laughing) Aye, aye captain. (laughing) (calming music) – Do you guys wanna do some rowing? So the current is against us and it’s just gonna get stronger. – To be honest the biggest
thing that I’m nervous about is making my appointment in New York. What I’m doing is raising money to buy a pair of exoskeleton bionic legs. That’s the latest ones on the market. I have basically twelve
days to finish this race. Why didn’t we go that way again? – [Spike] There’s no wind. The wind dies out there. – Okay. When I went into this sail trip, I specifically asked on the length that it would take, and what
we’re getting into. And it was always, we’ll
do 100 miles a day. And we’ll do it between
seven and 10 days maximum. As the bird flies, we’ve
done 26 miles from Victoria. – I’m alright with that. Bruno doesn’t seem to
have fully come onboard on this journey as a
true member of the crew. So he’s isolated himself from us. Put himself in the back
cabin, separated himself. – [Bruno] Spike’s more conservative. He’s very careful. I think Spike was optimistic. Always trying to be optimistic
that could get somewhere. But, sailing 20-30 miles
a day is not a race. We need to sail properly. – [Spike] We cannot safely
navigate the boat without Bruno. – Spike I can’t pull the anchor. – [Spike] I know he’s got
some commitments in New York. And that seems to be a bigger
priority for him than this. How’s that? But he did commit to the boat for a solid two weeks. – [Bruno] Okay cool, that’s fine. – [Spike] If Bruno
decided to leave the boat, we’re crippled in more ways than one. (water splashing) (exciting music) – Now we’re cruising,
this is the real style. None of this flapping
about that we did before. These seas I’m fully happy. (water splashing) – [Narrator] Word began
to spread that the race had been won by Team Mad Dog. They finished in three days,
20 hours, and 13 minutes. – Give me some abs. – Okay, release a bit. – [Narrator] Team Alula is
more than 600 miles behind. But for the first time in a while, there are sustained winds. – This has been a great day. We’ve got more miles
than we have before today. – I think I saw Bruno smile for the first time when it got a little hairy. He’s getting into his element. (calm music) – [Bruno] So guys. – [Spike] Yup. – We need to have a pow wow. – Oh no. – Now, I have this thing in
New York that I have to get to. This just to seems to be our last civilized spot before Port Hardy. (sighing) So I’m at this point of what do I do? My biggest thing is I
wanna go to Ketchikan. But I know that I’m not gonna make it. – [Spike] Today, we lost a crew member. Which has essentially disabled us as a crew from moving forward. It’s very emotional. I’m having a hard time
processing it to be honest. (fireworks blasting) – [Zachary] It would’ve been nice to see a nice respectful exit. Maybe he just couldn’t handle it. And the best way out
is just pick up and go. – [Spike] It just feels like
we got a big smack in the face. If you really are a true
mariner, and you commit to an endeavor like this,
then you know what it entails. (fireworks exploding) We are probably out of the race. (mumbling) This is the official shout out to Race to Alaska war room. This is Team Alula. We just lost a crew
member in Campbell River. The two of us left are
determined to get to Ketchikan. Can you help us find a
crew member and carry on? I realize this will officially
take us out of the race, but we have always been a race of one. Sending. There it goes. – My stomach just bottomed
out when you read that letter. (dramatic music) – [Narrator] The community
answered the call. Two sailors who had
just finished the race, volunteered to help complete the journey. The first was Morgan Tedrow. A computer engineer from Seattle. – [Morgan] For me and even
my crew it was like, oh. They had the determination to keep going. So I just told Jake, yup I’m in. Give me Spike’s number. And I texted him and said I was game to go up there if he was. – Fatigue is definitely
beginning to kick in. Developed a pressure sore
on my right butt cheek. And I had on my ankle from
dragging that around the boat. Moral is at an all-time low as usual. Hopefully it’ll stay manageable
’til we get to Ketchikan. – [Morgan] He was
enlightening about whether they can maintain their health. I mean, it’s a lot more
work to get around that boat for them than it is for me. – [Narrator] With Morgan, Team Alula sailed 250 miles in four days. More than doubling their
distance from the first week. In Bella Bella, a small fishing village halfway to the finish
line, a second sailor, Dr. Mark Eastham took Morgan’s place. – Joining Team Alula. Am I saying that right? Since Bella Bella, we have
gone probably 100 miles. And it’s not even 24 hours yet. – Whoa, this is a landmine. Look at this. That one would hurt. That would be a rudder buster right there. Right up here, this is the competition. We’ve been grinding these
guys down all day long. Hey guys! – [Sailor] Woohoo! You guys rock! We’re gonna catch up to
you when you’re asleep. (laughing) (grunting) – Oh gosh. Come on baby. – [Mark] We’re gonna
push on all night long. The plan is to not stop at all anymore. The next earth we touch will
be the dock at Ketchikan. (ropes knocking) (water bubbling) (calm music) The way these guys are doing it being paraplegic, it’s just amazing. (rope knocking) – It’s pretty light out. For 3:30 in the morning. This was pretty life changing. I’ll tell you that. (knocking and creaking) I’d say easily ranked top
three of adventures in my life. (splashing) I put my family through a lot of… A lot of grief. (dramatic music) But… They’re always there. They always show up. So, I wouldn’t be
surprised if they’re there. In Ketchikan. Wait. And that’s it. Giddy up. Let’s get the fuck out of here. – This is my church. – Alaska, here we come. Look at that. (dramatic music) (water splashing) – Carrying a boat across the finish line is what everybody is
just trying to do with it. I just can’t imagine that feeling. And that’s what we want. I think that’s what is driving us is just that completion of
a thing that we started. It’s all very spiritual. And you look around ya. It’s incredible. – I used to think, what
did I do to deserve this? But there’s a dozen
things I can think of that I’ve done in my life
that I probably wouldn’t have done if I didn’t break my neck. It’s just a reminder that,
hey, life is pretty precious. So make the most of it. (ropes winding) (triumphant music) – [Spike] Pretty much the official part of this race is over for us. But our drive and determination to keep going is still the same. – 2.4 miles from the finish line, and the wind has just basically quit. So Team Alula is rowing. (triumphant music) Let’s work boys. – I want Zach on the
tiller over the line. I need to finish this adventure
with limited resources. That’s how we started,
that’s how we’re finishing. (triumphant music) We’re only ever gonna be
racing against ourselves. And our goal was to get
from Victoria to Ketchikan. – [Mark] (mumbling) boys! – [Spike] You know when we
go past that no-wake sign, you’ve crossed the finish line. If we do that, we’ll have won our race. (dramatic music) (cheering) (yelling) We crossed the finish line
as a disqualified team. In 16 days, 10 hours, and 10 minutes. (bell ringing) Out of 44 boats that started the race, we were the 21st to finish. (cheering) We pushed through some
challenging conditions, but we deserve to be here. (wind blowing and waves crashing) (exciting music)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *