How it all began
There would be no Mobility Cup if it were not for a meeting between a hero and a visionary over what to do with a donated boat.
Rick Hansen and Sam Sullivan together launched the notion of adaptive sailing in Western Canada; the former supplied the boat – given to him by the British Prime Minister at Vancouver’s Expo ’86 – and the latter developed proceedings and set the stage for the international movement that it is today.
Rick Hansen presented the Sunbird in July 1989. By the end of that summer the newly formed Disabled Sailing Association of British Columbia (DSA BC) had launched more than 22 sailors with disabilities into English Bay, and Sam Sullivan was getting the idea for Mobility Cup.
Sam decided to raise the money for four more of the $15,000 boats to expand the sailing program – to “accommodate more disabled sailors, as well as host competitions,” as he put it in a 1990 newspaper interview.
“We had the idea for the Mobility Cup right at the beginning, around 1989 or 1990,” explains Sam. “It was important to have people come together and celebrate their achievements, and to do that in the form of a race.
“It was originally an expansion of the sailing program. It was to have disabled sailors come together and celebrate what they had achieved. After the first year, when we ended up having people come from another city, we realized there was a possibility that the Mobility Cup could be used to expand the disabled sailing program.”
The first Mobility Cup was held in Vancouver in August 1991. Twenty-four sailors, all from BC, competed in six Sunbirds (rather than the four originally targeted). It has grown every year since, evolving into the international flagship for adaptive sailing it is today.
“I see the Mobility Cup more for its importance in helping develop new adaptive sailing programs and furthering existing ones,” continues Sam. “Many people see it just as a high quality race, but for me, that is not the essence of the Mobility Cup, although it is a high quality, competitive event.”
He said that the event “outgrew DSA BC,” prompting his 2001 Deed of Gift that transferred responsibility for the event to the adaptive sailing community as a whole.
Rick Hansen says: “I have been involved in a series of events since, but I’ve followed the amazing progress of Sam and the society. I have a great sense of admiration for the work being done. Adaptive sailing opens up a part of life that many people might have thought had been taken away.
“Thanks to rehabilitation organizations like the Wheelchair Sports Association, I was able to participate in a lifestyle that was helpful in terms of how I defined myself,” he explains. “Learning how to adapt and continue to be an athlete was vital to my rehabilitation. If not for role models to encourage me I would not have been able to live the life I have. I would not be so inspired to give something back.”
(Rick is seen here presenting the initial Sunbird sailboat to the area's first ever adaptive sailor, Brent Foote.)