Friend of the Foundation: Harry Horgan and the All-Inclusive Encouragement that Happens at Shake-A-Leg Miami
It’s a pretty typical afternoon for Harry Horgan, he’s the co-founder and president of Shake-A-Leg Miami (SALM), a foundation for disadvantaged children. Horgan has a guest from out of town and they’re talking on the dock near the Impossible Dream, the 60-foot sailing catamaran docked at Shake-A-Leg Miami. Two years ago Shake-A-Leg partnered with Deborah Mellen to spur the project, Mellen found the Impossible Dream and generously donated the funds to acquire her. The original owner was Mike Browne, a paraplegic with a dream to build a boat that could be operated by a person in a wheelchair. Today the Impossible Dream helps those in chairs experience the ocean’s healing powers and promotes the Shake-A-Leg Miami facility – the Impossible Dream’s new home is a natural fit.
Horgan’s guest is Charlie Shipway, Shipway’s from Martha’s Vineyard and he’s taught sailing there for 30 years. In 2011, Shipway’s sailboat racing partner had a stroke and became paralyzed on his right side. Shipway reached out to Shake-A-Leg and they helped him build an adaptive seat so his longtime friend could continue to sail and race. They got back in the boat and got back to their winning ways, “We started with a couple of races we’d won the previous season. Well, we won again, we continued to win, we won the following season too and we won the series. It hasn’t slowed him down at all, literally. He’s one of the happiest people on the planet, he thought he’d never sail again, but we made that happen thanks to Harry Horgan and thanks to the guys in the shop here at Shake-A-Leg,” Shipway says smiling.
Horgan and Mellen, as part of seven-person crew, including a quadriplegic recently took second place out of 11 boats aboard the Impossible Dream in a race to Cuba. Last summer they took the Impossible Dream up the East Coast to Maine and the theme was the American Disabilities Act. Along the way they hosted more than 500 people aboard the vessel. “We picked up young people, some in chairs, some with other disabilities, most of them had never been on a boat,” Horgan says. “We’d go out for a couple of hours and enjoy the water, just the experience of being on the water, feeling the wind and talking to a friend is very stimulating. Some of the kids gravitate to the electronics and want to understand the plotter. We had a nine-year old boy in a wheelchair driving the boat, his mother looked on from behind with tears of joy as she watched her son experience such happiness and empowerment,” Horgan adds.
The Woody Foundation sponsored the New Hampshire to Maine portion of the journey. When the Impossible Dream arrived in Maine, they hosted Barbara and President George H.W. Bush. Horgan reached out President Bush’s grandson, he then received an email from President Bush’s assistant, they had a conversation, then met with Secret Service aboard the vessel on Sunday and on Monday they were sailing. “President Bush drove the boat for over an hour, he felt comfortable behind the helm. It was the first time he had been back on the water following his injury that required him to use a wheelchair, it was incredible,” Horgan says.
Horgan was injured in the early 80’s, he was totally depressed and quickly realized that if anything was going to happen – he was going to have to do it himself. He figured out a way to ski and that changed everything. Horgan began to realize the incredible healing powers of modalities such as swimming, skiing and being on the water. “The first time I skied, I was flying down the hill and I forgot I was disabled,” Horgan tells us.
In 1990 Horgan set up the Shake-A-Leg program in partnership with the City of Miami alongside Biscayne Bay, one of the great recreational bodies of water in the world with a 12-month season. Shake-A-Leg is a place where people with disabilities can experience water activities to find hope, friendship and new possibilities – that is happening. “We help all kinds of kids, we have kids with physical and intellectual challenges. Our goal is to help them have fun and just by being accessible and friendly to them, things change. And when they get on a boat, they relax, open up, calm down and smile. Then they tell their mom and dad they want to come back and that means we’re doing things the right way.” The Shake-A-Leg Miami waterfront community facility includes a marina equipped with sailboats, kayaks, standup paddleboards, a boat yard, boat repair area, classrooms, observation deck with beautiful views and eco islands. Shake-A-Leg serves more than 8,000 kids with disabilities a year thanks to its dedicated management, staff and volunteers – that’s where it gets interesting.
“Parents of kids with disabilities go through a lot and for them to see their kids have fun is therapeutic for them also,” says Horgan.
The rehabilitation and good work that happens at Shake-A-Leg reaches everyone – the guests, their parents and the Shake-A-Leg staff, everyone is touched, everyone is uplifted, everyone.