368 Harry Horgan
Back in the day in our shared hometown of Newport, Rhode Island, Harry Horgan and I could raise some serious Cain. I had a few years on Harry (whose family owned Christie’s, an iconic waterfront restaurant well-known to many a visiting sailor), but for a while we worked construction together, and I got to know him fairly well. But I hadn’t seen him for a few years in the time leading up to that night in the early 1980s when he was in a car accident and became paralyzed from the waist down. Ironically, I lived right down the street from the scene; I remember hearing the ambulances.
Unfortunately, at that point I knew far more than I wanted to know about spinal-cord injuries. A couple of years earlier, one of my best friends in the world, Jack “Jack Mack” McKenna, was in a diving accident that left him a quadriplegic. I was a few feet away from him when it happened.
All this came back to me very recently when Ocean Watch called in Miami on our ongoing voyage Around the Americas (www.aroundtheamericas.org). The crew was invited to the remarkable facilities of a group called Shake-A-Leg Miami, right on Biscayne Bay. Both skipper Mark Schrader and I spoke to a couple of groups of youngsters that day. The executive director of the organization introduced me and even invoked the name of Jack Mack.
The director’s name? Harry Horgan.
I could write a book instead of a blog about all this, and maybe someday I will. But for the time being, I’ll stick to the salient facts. The saddest thing about spinal-cord injuries is that young, active people largely incur them, “kids” in the prime of their youth. Harry and Jack could’ve felt sorry for themselves; I reckon I would’ve. Instead, Harry formed Shake-A-Leg to help folks overcome devastating injuries and physical disabilities, largely through sailing. Jack Mack and I even sailed in one of the early Shake-A-Leg regattas, and I did a piece in Cruising World about it. In Harry’s introduction the other day, he mentioned all that. I have to admit, it got pretty misty there for a minute.
Several years ago, Harry and his wife, Susie, moved to Miami and continued the work they’d started in Rhode Island all those years ago. Today, Shake-A-Leg Miami is a far grander, more ambitious, and far-reaching institution than the one Harry originally conceived. Frankly, we on Ocean Watch were astonished and impressed with the facilities, staff, and wide-ranging programs that are all part of the association today. In these challenging economic times, fundraising is always a challenge for non-profit organizations, and I’d urge everyone who might have the means and be moved to contribute to visit Shake-A-Leg Miami’s website (www.shakealegmiami.org) for more information on their goals, facilities, and programs for young people in South Florida.
The Around the Americas voyage is meant to be a voyage of discovery. In Miami, it was wonderful to discover a pair of old friends, Harry and Susie, doing so well.