Who Runs The World? Girls, Girls! Disability? Try (dis)ABILITY

by Hannah Stodel

I like to think of myself as a good sailor.
I like to think of myself as ambitious and driven.
I like to think that people can see past my disability.

Over the past few months, I have come to realise that people are very quick to judge on first impressions alone.

Coming back from the Rio 2016 Olympics, I launched head first into my dream of becoming the first disabled peorson to take on the Vendée Globe and, in doing so, breaking some records and making history. I knew going into this project that nothing was going to be easy; of course nothing this big or worthwhile ever is. I also knew that my lack of experience in offshore sailing might be a difficult barrier to overcome. What I didn't realise, however, was that people weren't so interested in my qualifications and abilities, but were more put off by my lack of an arm.

Earlier this summer, I went to a local sailing school on the East Coast to discuss getting my Yacht Master qualifications. I left there in such a state of anger, I cannot tell you. The Principle of the sailing school was nothing short of the rudest, most horrible man I have ever met. He basically took one look at me and thought that there was no way a disabled person could ever go sailing, let alone have the audacity to leave the house. He was so loathed to even put me on the boat to actually go sailing on the grounds that 'How would I hold on? How would I even sail?' that I'm pretty certain that women may also be banned on his boat - unless they are making tea! What p****d me off the most was that he didn't even bother to ask me about my previous experience. He just took one look at me and decided that I couldn't do it.

Sadly, he's not the only one. This has happened to me a few times now. There are, however, people who are willing to look past my disability and a few of them deserve thanking...

The first are the lovely Sirens ladies: Sue, Jennie and Katie. They took a chance on me and my lack of experience when it came to offshore sailing, to the extent that they flew me to Antigua Race Week to be their tactician without having even sailed with me. During the week, it became clear that no one really noticed that I am missing an arm or, more to the point, really cared. I think crawling into the bow with a screwdriver in your teeth to fix a spinnaker pole pretty much means you are capable!

Paul Peggs also deserves a mention here. I met Paul on the delivery trip that I did with Hydra Class 40. Having only met at the airport a few hours before heading off into the North Sea together, Paul really put me at ease whilst, at the same time, allowing me to learn and supporting me for the entire trip. The first night, I was pretty nervous so he just clipped himself on and went to sleep on the floor right next to the helm. Again, he never once questioned my disability; he just looked at me as a sailor who was taking an opportunity to learn from someone really experienced!! I look forward to sailing more miles with Paul...

Finally, Giovanni Belgrano onboard the mighty Whooper. I was lucky enough to meet the lovely Gio during the Panerai British Classic Week. I was doing the behind the scenes social media and one of my roles saw me sailing on a different boat each day and filming live updates whilst racing. I think at first Gio was nervous about having me on board, and I was relegated to 'ladies corner' on his boat. One hour into the race, however, I think his mind had been changed - so much so that, by the end of the day, he was bragging to the bar about me, which was amazing, and his was the only boat I sailed 2 days with!!

The other night, I was lucky enough to attend the Sail Aid UK benefit dinner, hosted at the rather incredible HQ of Land Rover BAR. What I didn't know was that one of my mentors, Phillippe, had volunteered me to go on stage and be interviewed alongside Mike Golding (OBE). Now Mike is someone I'm really inspired by; his story in the Vendée is quite simply legendary. Standing there, I told the room of my plans: that I would be the first disabled person to take on the race. I also told them that I wanted to prove that it could be done by a disabled person, and this in itself got the loudest cheer of the night. So this got me thinking... Why can a room full of people like this cheer when I say something like that but when it comes to me actually getting a place to go racing on these boats, why is that so hard?

Don't get me wrong; it's pretty obvious that I am disabled. What I'm really asking is that people take a minute to look past that. I am a good sailor; I am strong; I am fit; and I'm a good team player and, even though this #SingleHandedHannah dream of mine is a solo effort, it's the support behind me that gets me around the world!

'Never tell anyone who believes in themselves and wants to change the world that they can't do what you don't or won't do. Let them go for it. Believe in yourself and have a go at making a difference too or even help them. Otherwise, let them get on with it. Disabled or not, don't judge them or put them down. (It happened to us recently too!) Who knows, with such passion, determination and skill, they might just do it.'

H x

Follow my journey to the Vendée Globe on Twitter or click here to buy one of our exclusive t-shirts or mugs and support our journey to the most exciting race on earth. #BreakingBoundaries 

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