SCI Superstar: Deborah Mellen

To survive when faced with intense life challenges runs deep in Deborah Mellen’s veins. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, she’s been paralyzed since 1989. Injured in Italy shortly after getting married, life had a different path in store for Deborah, and boy has she embraced it.

She’s now the owner of one of the most accessible catamarans in the world – the Impossible Dream – and her life’s passion has become sharing the joy of sailing with people of all abilities. Uncannily enough, she never sailed before her injury.

But her path to becoming a lover of the seas and eventually procuring her ship, didn’t happen overnight. To discover out how Deb ended up where she is today, read her journey below.

Why she’s fearless

It was a car accident while living in Tuscany, Italy with her husband (a truck driver fell asleep behind the wheel and hit her) that thrust Deb into the world of spinal cord injuries.  Afterwards, she decided to stay in Italy, but when her husband passed away 2 years after her injury, she returned home to the US.

After returning home, she ended up in Miami for additional therapy at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, which is how she was first introduced to adapted sailing. Her surgeon Dr. Barth Green told her about Shake a Leg Miami, a local adapted sailing organization.

“I began to sail about 6 years after my injury,” she says. “I had always loved the water but had never had the chance to learn how to sail. I was hooked the 1st time out in a Shake boat. Sailing reacquainted me with the feelings of exhilaration, excitement and pure joy, in the moment.” After getting comfortable on the water, Deb heard about the Impossible Dream.

“I first heard about the Impossible Dream from my friend Andrea Stella (Lo Spirito di Stella) who invited me on his cruising catamaran from Italy. I fell in love with getting ‘salty,’ He was the one who originally showed me photos of Impossible Dream but at that time I didn’t know it was for sale. It seemed to be totally out of reach.”

After hearing it was for sale, she traveled to England, where the catamaran was located, along with Harry Horgan, one of the our past SCI Superstars (read his profile here) who is also the founder of Shake a Leg, and she purchased the catamaran after seeing it in person. The ship had been originally built by a paraplegic from the United Kingdom, Mike Browne.

After bringing the ship to the US, she had the idea of renaming it. “We stayed at the Thunderbolt Marina on the river in Savannah for one week putting her back together before setting sail. It was while we were there that I got the idea of ‘X’ ing out the IM of Impossible. We got some red tape and that was it.”

After acquiring the Impossible Dream, she committed it to Shake a Leg, where the organization gives rides on the ship to people with disabilities. She also decided to spiff up the boat after her purchase in 2014. “We tore apart the cabins, sanded, repainted, got rid of mold, and put new mattresses for the cabins.” “We also replaced the dashboard in the helm with an all new Garmin system.”

Among her favorite features of the ship, she loves to be able to access the bow. “I had never been able to access the bow of a boat before.” “Of course being able to get on and off the boat independently is great, but number one is driving, surfing the waves, from a 100% accessible cockpit.”

What’s next?

Deb has plenty of future plans for the Impossible Dream. “We would love to add a Sip ‘n Puff system for driving the boat as well as an accessible swim platform and accessible dingy.” “We would also love to set up a camera for a virtual reality system for friends on land.”

Deb’s ultimate vision is that there’ll be no necessity for the term “adaptive sailing.” “I would love to see all sailboats universally designed to include all people.”

With the boat currently en route to Cuba, which is an exciting new location for the craft, it can be found at Shake a Leg in Miami until late June until she embarks on her summer tour up and down the East Coast.

Follow the Impossible Dream on her adventures: www.impossibledream.us

Have you discovered a new life passion after your injury?

Dreaming with Adventurous Wheels — Cuba Journey: The Impossible Dream

From cruise ships to fishing boats, there has been some outstanding accessible ships built over the last two decades, but in the world of yachts, few have been given the full accessible treatment, which is exactly what makes the Impossible Dream so extraordinary.

Initially created in England by Mike Browne, a paraplegic injured in a skiing accident, he decided to build the Impossible Dream, a 60ft catamaran, so he could sail independently. The ship was also captained by Geoff Holt in 2010 when he became the first quadriplegic to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

  

But after owning it for 10 years, he wanted others to experience it so he sold it to Deborah Mellen, a paraplegic living in Miami, who had fallen in love with adapted sailing post-injury after being introduced to the sport by Shake-a-Leg (a Miami-based adapted sailing organization). It was fate the way the boat ended up in her hands.

After discovering sailing, she wanted to help acquire a larger ship for Shake-a-Leg. When she found out the Impossible Dream was for sale, she bought it on the spot after taking a tour.

The Impossible Dream is impressive. It has state-of-the-art controls and a fully accessible cockpit with a knob on the helm for easier steering and push button sail hoists allowing anyone to raise the sails. The ship has a stunning 85 foot mast as well to accommodate the boat’s width of 27’.

 

It also has a large remote that controls sheeting and furling from the anywhere on the boat. And if the weather is nice, there are two outside accessible driving stations/helms on each side of the boat.

                         

And that is just the steering controls. Another impressive accessible feature is the continuous single level deck that goes around the entirety of the ship and accommodates up to 8 wheelchair-users. It also has 4 titanium wheelchair lifts that go to two accessible hulls. Within these levels you’ll find four cabins. All four cabins are wheelchair accessible and each hull (port and starboard) has a lift accessing the cabins and heads (bathrooms).  

And the galley area too is fully accessible with lower counters, cabinets, and a refrigerator all within easy reach.

After Deborah acquired the Impossible Dream, she was compelled to change the name to the Possible Dream, wanting people to see the possibilities of what can be achieved when it comes to accessibility on the water. Partnering with Shake-a-Leg-Miami, and Harry Horgan its founder, also a paraplegic, the two have been bringing the excitement of yachting to people with disabilities from its new port in Miami since 2013.

Last July, the crew, along with Deborah and Harry, brought the ship to several ports along the East coast to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and they had the honor of giving President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara a ride. Deborah and Harry’s most recent adventure was sailing the ship in the Conch Republic Cup, where they sailed from Key West to Cuba, finishing second and third in different divisions.

There are so many more adventures lying in wait for this amazing catamaran. With our founder Josh and crew scheduled to sail the Impossible Dream back to Cuba this Sunday, we can’t wait to hear more about the true awesomeness of this one-of-a-kind yacht.

Learn more about the Impossible Dream here

View more pics of the Impossible Dream here