“It was the adventure of a lifetime, and I returned a different person”

Oceans of Hope take people living with MS on life-changing sailing trips. Here, Nicola explains how Oceans of Hope came to be.

Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2013 affected my life drastically and I was medically retired at 37 a year later. I could not go out on my own, I couldn’t use the tube or travel alone. I became very withdrawn and depressed. I kept having more relapses. Physically, things changed for the better for me when I made a big lifestyle change – moving from London to a quieter town and I finally got a disease-modifying therapy (DMT) that worked – Tysabri. Before that, I had three different DMTS that were not effective.

Just three months after I retired, I heard about a Danish charity, Sailing Sclerosis, that had a boat, Oceans of Hope, sailing around the world, crewed by people living with MS. Somehow, I knew this was an adventure I needed to be a part of, at a time when I needed to prove that I could still challenge myself in life. I decided to apply!

I flew to the USA and sailed 400 miles from Charleston to Fort Lauderdale. It was not all easy, but it was the adventure of a lifetime, and I returned a different person, having discovered the joy of sailing and learning and working as a team to achieve something amazing! This newfound confidence, along with medical advances in the treatment of MS, lifestyle changes and being able to pace myself and have adequate rest, have helped me to change my life.

In 2015 I met Robert Munns, who had also been part of the circumnavigation. He had an inspiring idea to organise more sailing adventures so others living with MS could experience what we had. Working together we formed our charity, Oceans Of Hope UK (OOH), and we now organise regular sailing challenges for people with MS both in the UK and in other countries.

We also have lots of people who come sailing with us regularly. They have discovered a new social network and we have even had several couples meet through sailing with us!

So far, it’s been amazing. I can see the positive difference it makes to so many people. They make new friends, learn new skills, and improve their self-confidence. Even in a day I can see the difference between the nervous person joining us for the first time and their confidence and smile by the end of the day.

Every trip is special, but I particularly remember someone who had to crawl onto the boat on the first day of a week-long challenge, and at the end of the week he walked off the boat! I am also very proud of the RYA sailing courses we have provided, allowing people to gain competent crew and day skipper certificates in an MS-friendly environment.

I never dreamed that when we organised our first challenge in 2016 we would become an official charity with multiple events in different countries throughout the year.

Oceans of Hope’s challenges are open to all with MS regardless of experience or ability. To find out more, visit oceansofhope.co.uk.

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This article appeared in New Pathways magazine, the publication of choice for everyone with MS. Click the button below to learn more and subscribe today.