We are all inspired by others, and one of the people at the very top of my inspiration list is Keith Burhans. Keith's list of accomplishments is long, headlined by a 7th place finish at the 2000 Paralympics. He's also a past commodore of the Rochester Yacht Club in New York. But it's not really his accomplishments that impress me so much; it's the can-do attitude that he presents in answer to any challenge—including the one that quite literally knocked the legs right out from under him.
Almost twenty years ago, Keith was out fishing on Lake Ontario with his two young daughters when an out-of-control motorboat ran down his anchored boat, capsizing it and trapping the girls inside. His 10-year-old got herself out, and somehow—in spite of two slashed shins from the other boat's propeller—Keith managed to rescue the 4 year old. That night, both of his legs were amputated below the knee.
I didn't know Keith then, but I'm sure he woke to greet his new footless future with the same determined smile he always greets me with. (And in case you think I'm being insensitive, his email address includes the term "nofeet.") A lifelong sailor, he was soon back enjoying his favorite sport. He also helped to start SportNet, a program that offers people with disabilities the chance to go sailing on Lake Ontario.
Recently Keith—again through his own hard work and initiative, which included a bit of shameless begging for votes—won a Facebook popularity contest and joined a Volvo Ocean Race team onboard for The Artemis Challenge Race. They won, the first victory for Team Abu Dhabi over two other Volvo Ocean 65s, and they also made some money for Toes in the Water, a charity that supports wounded warriors in the UK. How appropriate that a toeless guy was steering as they crossed the finish line, while also rubbing elbows with Simon and Yasmin LeBon (the onboard celebrities). I'm guessing he impressed them too.
Read more about his adventure, What It's Like to Ride on a Volvo 65. Meanwhile, I'm going to ping Keith to see if he needs someone to carry his bags on his next trip.