By Melissa Novacaska
Doreen Ames is just getting started when it comes to sailing her way into retirement.
The 59-year old Toronto native, who’s called Ottawa home since the 1980s, recently competed and took home 4th place overall in her gold fleet category in the annual Mobility Cup Regatta.
Noted as the largest able sail competition in Canada, this year the regatta took place in the nation’s capital at the Nepean Sailing Club from Sept. 9-13.
After completing 10 races throughout the event, Ames fell short behind two Québec racers and one from California, but her results made her the top Ottawa athlete.
“I’m quite happy with my results and it’s all fun. The people are great and I really enjoyed it. It was a well organized regatta, one of the best,” Ames said.
According to the event’s website, the regatta, which has taken place across the country since 1991, is a “regatta of possibility” and has drawn in competitors from Canada, the United States and Europe.
The event is governed by the AbleSail Network of Canada, and aims to promote the idea that anyone can take up sailing no matter if an athlete has a disability or not.
The two main categories within the regatta include the silver fleet and gold fleet, with the former aimed for less experienced athletes and includes a companion, while the latter is geared towards more experienced sailors and only includes a companion if needed for a specific reason. Racers in the regatta sail Martin 16 boats, which are designed to be a fit for sailors with disabilities.
Representing the National Capital Able Sail Association (NCASA) and the Nepean Sailing Club, as well as being a member of the Britannia Yacht Club, this was Ames’ third Cup experience.
This was also the first full season Ames competed at the golden fleet category, having switched from the silver to gold. Her expectations for this year’s Cup were modest.
“I thought, ‘Well you know, if I end up in the bottom half, you know, that’s good,’ but I ended up having some good sails. It was great,” Ames said, even finishing in 1st place during one of the event’s races.
“I’m proud of [being a top Ottawa sailor] because you know, I can’t do any other sports, but I can do sailing. I’m glad that I’m keeping it up,” Ames said.
Having the event in the city made it even more special for Ames, allowing for family and friends to attend races and get as close as possible on spectator boats. Ames’ husband is also “quite committed” with the sport, going so far as being a co-chair of the Cup, a volunteer and companion at events and also put in a grant proposal to receive two new boats for the club. Her eldest son has also been a companion during past races.
Though Ames finished the season on a high note, it hasn’t been that long since she started competing just four years ago.
Ames said she decided before she had retired that she needed to find something that would keep her busy and doing something she enjoyed, which is when the thought of sailing in the Martin 16 boat came to mind.
Ames also took into consideration that fact that she’s had Multiple Sclerosis (MS) for the last 21 years, but with a background in geology and previously working as a geologist and researcher for the Geological Survey of Canada, she thought compelled to give sailing a shot.
“I like the outdoors… but because of my disability [of having MS] I can’t walk very far, I can’t get out in the field anymore, I can’t go hiking, so getting into a boat and being able to go places and race, I like the competition,” Ames said. “[Sailing is] very invigorating.”
After only having a few lessons in the Martin 16 boat, Ames was “convinced” to participate in her first regatta.
“I went into it and I loved it, so I just kept racing,” Ames said. “[Sailing] makes you on par with everybody else in a sport. Like you can do it just as well as anybody out there. It gives me some freedom.”
Ames said though sailing is part of her “summer activities” and helps her get outside and be on the water, there’s also “a lot of good companionship and good friends in the group”.
Along with Martin 16 sailing, Ames has roughly 12 years experience sailing in her families’ larger 28-foot Beneteau boat, which operates differently.
“The large boat has a big wheel where as the dinghy you’re in pulling the ropes and steering all at the same time,” Ames said.
Naturally enjoying exercise, keeping active and being inclined to sports all her life, Ames said before taking up sailing and with MS, she hadn’t done organized sport for roughly 15-20 years, but that’s now changed.
“Sailing has enabled me to get out and do things,” Ames said.
On top of sailing, Ames attends sports classes and yoga, all which helps keep her upper body strength, both something she doesn’t necessarily need for sailing but works for her.
“Especially when it’s windy, it’s great, so [sailing] keeps me in shape actually too,” Ames said.
A sport that helps Ames feel like she’s “accomplished something”, and calling it “challenging, but relaxing”, sailing also allows her to enjoy being out in nature.
“It’s just beautiful to be out on the river at sunset when you come in from sailing,” Ames said. “It’s a nice release and it let’s you [be] calm.”
Ames also said sailing allows her to focus on just one thing, instead of anything else going on her life such as her MS.
“It keeps your spirits up and it gives you a lot of satisfaction and it’s always different. The wind is always different, the weather is always different and just when you think you’ve got it nailed, there’s always something to challenge you and to keep you on your toes,” Ames said.
Racing as much as she can during the season, other notable events Ames has competed in over the last few years include a 2nd place finish in the silver fleet at the 2017 Mobility Cup in Kelowna, B.C., a 1st place finish also in the silver fleet at the 2018 Mobility Cup in Halifax, N.S. and a 2nd placing at this year’s National Capital Cup in July.
Even with all the regattas and results Ames has participated in so far, she said she’s not sure if she’d have the energy due to her condition to aim for the Paralympics, if the sport was added into the highest-level competition for para-athletes.
Currently sailing is not in the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, nor is it in the 2024 Paris Paralympics Games.
For now though, in a sport that keeps her moving and helps her enjoy life more, Ames said she plans to continue competing.
While the season has come to an end and the Martin 16 boats are in storage, Ames said she’ll stay on the water as much as she can by sailing in the family boat, while also gearing up for another gold fleet season next year.
“There’s a number of really good sailors, so I’ll have my competition ready for me for as long as I can sail,” Ames said.
Ottawa had a number of Ottawa sailors taking part in this year’s Mobility Cup. With Doreen Ames being the sole local contender in the gold fleet, Karell Régnier from Gatineau, Que., who also represents the National Capital Able Sail Association (NCASA), came in 9th place overall in the gold Fleet.
Ottawa’s Liane Carmel, Alex Krneta and Brian Moretton, all from NCASA as well, came in 4th, 9th and 18th overall in the silver fleet.