Sailors left high and dry

Sarah Millsom and Mark Thorpe are headed for the world championships but cannot train at Hazelwood Pondage. photograph hayley mills

Sarah Millsom and Mark Thorpe are headed for the world championships but cannot train at Hazelwood Pondage. photograph hayley mills

Two Latrobe Valley sailors will be waving the flag for Australia when they head to Japan in October to take part in the Hansa Class dinghy world championships.

Latrobe Valley Yacht Club members Sarah Millsom and Mark Thorpe are taking on the best in the world in Hiroshima after winning a swag of medals and titles in Australia.

Hansa class sailing is one of the only sports in which people with disabilities can compete on an even keel with able-bodied people.

Both sailors gained their sea legs in the Sailability program designed to teach people with disabilities how to get out on the water.

Ms Millsom and Mr Thorpe joined the program in their early teens while attending special development schools before discovering they had a knack for the sport.

Ms Millsom is a Special Olympics gold and silver medallist, has four Victorian titles and an ACT champion title, and won the Japan versus Australia Peace Cup.

Mr Thorpe has been named Victorian disabled sailor of the year, is a Special Olympics bronze medallist and has competed in three world championships.

Both sailors have limited mobility and Mr Thorpe gets around with the help of a walking frame.

His mum Glenys Thorpe said he had developed self-confidence, independence and core muscle strength since taking up the sport.

"There was not a lot that Mark could do on his own. He began coming out of his shell and going to the gym to build up his muscles. He is now sailing manually on his own," Ms Thorpe said.

"If it wasn't for sailing, he wouldn't be as fit and healthy as he is."

Ms Millsom's mum Leanne Millsom said the sport had given her daughter an active social life and she has made friends across Australia and internationally.

"Sarah loves to socialise. People in Japan and Malaysia make a point of meeting up and they really want Sarah and Mark to come to Japan," she said.

The pair have sailed all over Australia, in lakes, harbours and on the open sea, and have developed a keen sense of how to read the wind and water conditions.

The pair had been taking to the Hazelwood pondage to train for Japan, however, they are now scratching their heads as to where they will hold their weekly training sessions since the pondage was closed to water activity.

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