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Smooth Sailing

Bobby Westlake and Tyler Dodson.JPG

Special Olympics USA Unified sailing partner Bobby Westlake carpooled to elementary school with a family friend and their daughter, his classmate. Decades later, he would compete with that classmate’s son in the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin. Athlete Tyler Dodson and his Unified partner Bobby began sailing together in January. Prior to training as a team, they chartered their respective courses.

Tyler has sailed the world, quite literally. In 2019, Tyler competed in sailing at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi, where he won silver. The year before, he was selected to represent Special Olympics Texas in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida. Five months later, he competed in the first Para Sailing International Championship for individuals with intellectual disabilities, part of the Virtus Oceania Asia Games Brisbane. Upon his return, he started preparing for the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin.

“I thought it was pretty interesting to do,” remembered Tyler. “I liked being on the water.”

While Tyler started sailing in high school, Bobby got a later start. At the age of 46, he decided to finally give sailing a try.

“I had a near-death experience and decided I always wanted to sail,” said Bobby. “My daughter and I took sailing lessons, she talked me into getting a boat and I’ve been sailing ever since.”

So, Bobby joined the Corinthian Sailing Club in Dallas. The club’s partnership with Special Olympics dates back to the early 2000s. Athletes travel to White Rock Lake outside of Dallas, where members of the Corinthian Sailing Club and White Rock Boat Club volunteer for an annual regatta. In 2018, Bobby was introduced to Tyler.

“His boat was in a regatta the same time I was and he beat me,” said Bobby. “It’s just serendipity that brings you somewhere.”

That somewhere turned out to be Seglerhaus Wannsee, the second-oldest yacht club in Germany. In the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, the two competed in the Level 2 division of the Unified Sports Team event.

“For someone passionate about sailing, this is an ideal event,” said Bobby. “It’s just meeting the athletes that we have here. We have bonded with the Special Olympics Greece athletes because we’ve ridden on the bus together.”

Out on the water, Tyler and Bobby have mastered the art of working together as a team, but not without their fair share of challenges. In the final day of competition at the Special Olympics World Games, their boat flipped.

“We were about to round the mark,” said Bobby. “We had to take a penalty, which means you have to do a 360-degree penalty turn. While we were doing the turn, the wind got us, took us over and put us in the water.”

Those initial choppy waters turned into smooth sailing as the duo right their boat, refocused and set their sights on the finish line. At the end of their competition, they claimed silver as a team. It was serendipity that brought them to this moment, it was hard work that won them silver.