Freedom on the water

Pathway to Achievement – Ross’s story

Perth is considered one of the windiest cities in the world but more famously, at least in sailing terms, is the place where, on 26 September 1983, the yacht Australia II made history when the oldest sporting trophy in the world, the America’s Cup, was wrested from the Americans after 132 years. This feat, by any measure must surely be an exemplar of grit, determination, courage and resilience. Sailors the world over know these character traits and sailing folklore is steeped in them.

Ross Manning grew up in Western Australia sailing various dinghy sailboats on or around the Swan River including out of the Fremantle and Rockingham Sailing Clubs. It was around the time of the America’s Cup win that Ross was in his most formative teen years. It was at this time that he probably learned that ‘any boss who sacks anyone for not showing up today is a bum’ but more importantly was learning about the value of resilience, courage, determination and grit.

Moving to the Gold Coast in 1995 Ross joined the Southport Yacht Club (SYC) in 2001 owning and racing trailer sailboats and sports boats and crewing on ocean racers. This is where he says he honed his seamanship and competitive nature.

For Ross there were many harder lessons to come.

Surviving a serious road accident in 2011 which left him with a high level of quadriplegia Ross was paralysed from the chest down. Planning for his future and prior to being discharged after almost two years in hospital, Ross purchased his first SKUD 18 Paralympic class race yacht while at the same time vowing to both complete his tertiary education and become a champion sailor.

He entered the 2013 SKUD Nationals at Sail Melbourne achieving a credible 5th place and again in 2014 with a 7th place. In 2018 he won the title at the same championships and repeated the win at the National Championships on the Gold Coast in August 2019. His enthusiasm has resulted in the 2020 SKUD Nationals being scheduled for August offshore on the Gold Coast.

Ross’s passion for sailing, together with his commitment to inspiring sailors with disability, prompted him to form the Queensland Para Sailing Academy (QPSA) in 2018 He readily agrees that he is highly motivated in a quest to seek sustainable yacht racing solutions for yachtsmen and yachtswomen with disabilities. He has been the driving force in building a fleet of six SKUD 18 yachts at the Southport Yacht Squadron Hollywell on the Gold Coast. He has been the SYC Inshore Division representative for eight years.

Volunteering as an able-bodied sailor at Sailability Gold Coast in 2001 it was not until some 12 years later, following his long rehabilitation, that he became an engaged and committed sailor with disability at Sailability Gold Coast. Today Ross is an integral part of the fabric of Sailability Gold Coast and works passionately to assist in growing our Pathways to Achievement program.

The Sailability Gold Coast Pathways to Achievement program seeks to firstly introduce people with disability to recreational sailing and then, for those seeking to grow their knowledge and skills, the program delivers a pathway to further learning, mentoring and competitive sailing. You can read about some successful participants here.

When discussing the grit, courage and determination that sailing demands and how it is never more so evident than when observing a disabled SKUD 18 sailor negotiating a path through the Gold Coast Seaway or competing off-shore in an unfriendly swell Ross has just one word – fear. He describes the exhilaration and triumph that overwhelms him when he looks fear in the face, deploys the skills he has learned and goes on to complete the race – often with a win. That’s courage.

Incidentally, along the way Ross’s journey has seen imbued in him a passion for social justice and, since leaving hospital and achieving most of the objectives he set himself, he has completed his Bachelor of Social Work and a Diploma in Community Service.

Ross is a warrior that Sailability Gold Coast is proud to have as a member of its volunteer army.