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Virtual Sailing Program Helps People With Disabilities

"It provides participants with a sense of purpose and hope," says Dexter Township resident Larry Courson, who is working to gauge interest in bringing the V-Sail Trainer simulator to the community.

A virtual sailing program that helps people with spinal cord injuries develop upper body strength and boost coordination skills might be implemented in Dexter.

Dexter Township resident Larry Courson is working to bring the V-Sail Trainer program to the community to help children and adults with developmental and physical disabilities.

"Right now we're just in the planning stages," Courson said. "I'm really looking for volunteers and families with special needs children to indicate whether or not there is an interest."

Similar to flight simulators, the V-Sail trainer program is a sailboat simulator operated by custom designed software. The sailor sails the simulator around virtual courses displayed on a computer screen, or overhead display, in the same way as a real sailboat on water. Electronic sensors provide real time feedback to match the movements of the virtual sailboat displayed on the screen with those of the simulator.

"For some participants, therapeutic sailing acts as a life preserver pulling them out of the depths of despair. It allows them to take control of the wheel and put aside the uncertainty that often capsizes their everyday life. By facilitating teamwork and communication," Courson said. "It provides participants with a sense of purpose and hope."

Courson said he would like to partner with local organizations to acquire the simulator, which costs roughly $40,000.

"The simulator costs too much for just one group, but if we partner together, the cost is negligible," he said.

"Ideally we could house the simulator at the Dexter Wellness Center or at a local church and allow any group to use it," Courson said. "I think it has great potential to help not only special needs children and adults in Dexter, but also cancer patients and people throughout Southeast Michigan with other rehabilitative needs, as well."

Courson said the idea came to him after participating in a recreational sailing club at the University of Michigan last year.

"I wasn't very good (at sailing), and after doing more and more research, I stumbled on this virtual sailing program," he said.

The program is currently available at John’s Hopkins University, and is endorsed by Dr. Norman Saunders, a prominent Australian neurologist, and Dave McCabe, a former NASA engineer.

"I think there is a tremendous need for a program like this in Michigan," Courson said. "There are not enough programs that cater specifically to students with special needs."

For more information about contributing, volunteering or participating in the program, email Pastor Larry Courson at Peace Lutheran Church, or Brent Courson, brentcourson@gmail.com.

Brent Courson February 06, 2013 at 04:55 PM
Thank you for writing this story Daniel. We are already getting a great response!
Daniel Lai February 06, 2013 at 06:41 PM
That is awesome to hear! Keep me informed of the progress.

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