A Texas family sponsored in Williamsburg by the Make-A-Wish Foundation wound up their vacation with an outdoor adventure by going sailing on the York River. Earlier we got rained out but rescheduled the next day under cloudy and cool conditions. It was actually quite pleasant. Because Let’s Go Sail is ADA compliant, I moved the boat earlier that morning to C Dock of York River Yacht Haven, which as a floating dock is wheelchair accessible.
Rumisha Rice explained gently the condition of their 10-year-old daughter Madison, but first she cautioned against approaching her service dog, a golden lab, with a how-to about the protocol.
“Her saddle explicitly states Service Dog and advises people not to pet her. The reason is that while it’s nice for people to pet a dog, this one is a working dog. Petting her is a distraction to her work, which is to protect Maddie.” Today we switched out her service dog saddle for a doggie life preserver. At first she skidded all over the cockpit deck, so I put the cabin rug under her. That worked. She remained to sit content throughout the ride.
Make-A-Wish Sailing Dog
Her mom continued, “Maddie suffers seizures and has water on the brain. She has cerebral palsy and is legally blind. She’s ten but she’s the size of a five-year-old.” Rumisha and her other daughter Lexis held Maddie all afternoon. “They are siblings and we adopted them. The girls have an older brother adopted by another family, but they haven’t seen him in years. We don’t know why. It’s complicated. Our older children live an hour-ish from our home near Houston.”
With us on the boat were my sailing buddy Paul Schoch and his stepson Sam Baird, who was working on a set of math problems associated with sailing. I tried to explain the apparent wind vs. the true wind. He got the gist and did a good job on the helm running the close reach and the beam reach. Madison’s dad Larry Rice was on the helm most of the time.
Back to Madison. I asked what the dog, whose name is Priscilla, actually does besides comfort Madison. “She was trained literally from the day she is born by a group called 4 Paws for Ability. In our case, Priscilla can detect Maddie’s seizures before we can because of Maddie’s pheromones. She can also detect her migraines and even low blood sugar. Other dogs that are trained for the deaf will tap them to alert them to something. Maddie’s sister Lexis explained that humans give off all manner of hidden scents that dogs can pick up. These include scents associated with illness or fear.
“In Maddie’s case, if Priscilla detects a seizure she’ll lick her energetically on the side of her face to calm her and to alert us. If it’s more serious, she’ll bark. Everywhere Maddie goes, Priscilla follows. She gets on the school bus with Maddie and goes to school with her. There are only three places that a service dog can’t go: the kitchen of a restaurant, a hospital OR, and a public pool. But we have a pool behind our house.”
Priscilla has been with the Rice family for a year and a half. “We don’t train her,” Rumisha laughed. “She trains us.”
We tacked out the river five times on a close reach and rode a beam reach back on rising seas. Rumisha stroked Madison’s hair and held her. “I love Maddie and I love Lexis. They have made me a better person. I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.”
Back at C Dock, I sent Lexis for Maddie’s wheelchair and lifted her off the boat. Lexis gently positioned her into her car seat in their van, and Mom turned to me while playing with the dog. “Give me a fist bump,” she said to Priscilla, who complied. “Shake,” she said, adding “Watch this.” Priscilla did a passable shake and walked away, to the side of the van. “You see? She’s trained not to leave Maddie alone, even with me around.” How amazing is that.
Sailing to Career Counseling
Next day, Libby Westley took her team from Christopher Newport University sailing on the York to thank them for their year’s hard work. The day provided a contrast in numbers, because their shop of six people advises most of 5,000 undergrads over the course of the academic year.
I asked about placing the hard cases of art history majors. Libby said, “They have to decide what they want to do, given their major. Then they have to asses their job skills in light of what’s out there. My favorite story is about the fellow who ran security for a bank company. He operated their anti-terrorism unit. He said, ‘I like to hire English majors. They can recognize patterns better than others.'”
Those who major in accounting, engineering tend to place themselves through job fairs and on-campus recruiting. “Teachers too,” Sarah Hobgood said. “They’re easy.” I asked if they steered away from bad employers, and they agreed that word of mouth does a pretty good job of that. Plus there are websites devoted to bad places. Libby brightened, “Some of the best places are Booz Allen Hamilton Consulting, ADP Consulting, Ferguson Enterprises. They are great places to work.”
On mild winds of 6 mph, Libby ran the helm as we proceeded upriver toward Yorktown. We sailed under the bridge to see USS The Sullivans, a cruise missile destroyer named for five brothers killed in World War II. Andy Park talked about history and landed on the 1812 Battle of Craney Island. “The British were out to capture the USS Constellation in port to impress the sailors aboard. Some 700 US forces went up against 4,000 British, and we prevailed. Francis Scot Key should have written the Star Spangled Banner about that instead.” Andy is a costumed reenactor who covers 1812, the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.
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A Texas family on a Make-A-Wish vacation went sailing on the York River.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
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