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:

Have you discovered a new life passion after your injury?

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