The positive power of putting kids on water

Champion yachtsman Matthew Owen… “If they’re in the middle of the lake they can’t just say ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ and walk to the sideline.” Photo by Danielle Nohra

MANY programs in Canberra help disadvantaged children build self esteem, but CEO of Canberra Yacht Club Matthew Owen says none are in such a unique environment as his.

“If they’re in the middle of the lake they can’t just say ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ and walk to the sideline,” says Matthew, 48, of Weston.

The champion yachtsman’s been instrumental in developing the Buoyed Up with Tackers program, which was created after club member and Olympic bronze medallist Ian Ruff came to him in 2006 with the idea to help juniors in a scholarship type way.

Even though Matthew says sailing can be cheaper than some registration costs to sporting teams, they wanted to offer a scholarship to families who might not have the funds.

But one person led to 22 and they ended up with a class of people from a school in 2012. Since then more than 12,000 people have come through the program.

Matthew says Buoyed Up with Tackers, which he describes as “the coolest program”, doesn’t necessarily focus on vulnerable and at-risk children individually but on the whole class.

“We break down the barriers within the class structure as well,” he says.

“So when they go through school together they have this bond.

“We’re finding the benefits in the classroom – according to the teachers – are very positive.”

With about six or seven schools this year Matthew says it’s going to be bigger and better.

“It’s about giving back to the kids from a club point of view,” he says.

Matthew, who has been part of the club for about 16 years, has also had a successful career in sailing.

Along with sailing partner and “best mate” Andrew Reed, Matthew’s a three-time Australian national flying fifteen champion and a two-time national champion in keeled boots.

He’s won more than 25 ACT championships in sailing and is the current NZ flying fifteen champion.

He has also finished in the top five of the world championships on two occasions.

But along with his achievements he’s seen some lows and says the hardest obstacle he’s been confronted with was being told he only had a year to live in late 2014 after being diagnosed with terminal gallbladder cancer.

Since then, there have been a lot of things giving Matthew strength, such as his amazing family, friends, a great medical team and his work.

And another program at work that inspires him is the Sailability program, which helps assist people of all abilities get involved in sailing.

“I’m sort of physically okay and seeing what these kids go through [in the Sailability program] gives me strength,” he says.

He wants to avoid “the grey-tracksuit syndrome” and says he could sit around and wait for the end to come or get out there and do something.

“I really enjoy getting out and helping people and sailing is my passion and job,” he says.

“We’ve had some great athletes who head off to special Olympics and a few people are going to do world championships in Hiroshima soon.”

The National Capital Authority is even building a jetty specifically tailored for people of all abilities to use, which Matthew says they’re all thrilled about.

“We’re starting to reach out to more schools who have children with disabilities to do more programs throughout the week,” he says.

“We love to get new people involved and love to see the smiles on their faces when they do.

“The beauty of it is that people who are physically or intellectually disabled experience a sense of freedom on the water.

“We see them beaming and smiling and it gives us here at the office a real buzz.”

More information at canberrayc.com

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