Our History

Hans and Miriam Van Leening immigrated to Canada in 1981. Hans worked as a physiotherapist at Kelowna General Hospital. He always had a great interest in sports. In 1985 Hans was invited to be the physiotherapist for the Canadian Disabled Sports team.

Hans travelled with the team and met many people with disabilities, including Rick Hansen.

In 1986, three days after returning from Europe with the Canadian team Hans was in an accident in Kelowna and suffered a spinal cord injury himself. Hans was flown to the Vancouver spinal cord injury hospital and stayed there for 4 months. His injury left him a quadriplegic.

In that same year, Rick Hansen had started his Man in Motion tour. In England, Rick met
with Margaret Thatcher. Rick was given an adapted sailboat to be sent to Canada. After Rick finished his tour and had received the sailboat, he met with a few other people with disabilities and wanted to make use of the sailboat. One of his friends, Sam Sullivan (who later became the mayor of Vancouver) loved the idea of trying it out. They started to adapt the boat even further and the goal was that any disabled person, no matter how severely disabled, would be able to sail this boat solo.

After the successful adaptations they started a foundation and with donated money they bought a second sailboat in England. People were so enthusiastic about their freedom on the water, being involved in a sport and loving the outdoors that the first Disabled Sailing Association was formed in 1989.

In 1990, when Hans was still recovering from his injuries, he received a call from Sam Sullivan who invited Hans to come sailing in Vancouver. Hans answered: “Well I would love to, but I broke my neck a few years ago and am now a quadriplegic”. Sam said: “that is exactly why I’m calling you now”. Sam explained how Hans could sail again. Hans was reluctant at first to travel to Vancouver and try it out, but Miriam, said: “We are going this weekend”, and right away started to pack the van! When they arrived at Jericho sailing school, Hans did not want to get out of the van. Miriam had to check it out first. She saw a few people in wheelchairs and inquired about the sailing. Miriam recognized one of the guys, he was a former patient of Hans’, who was injured in Kelowna a year prior to Hans’ injury.” Get him out of the van” the guy said, “He must go in the boat and try sailing!”

Half an hour later Hans sailed in English Bay. It was the most wonderful experience. Miriam was overwhelmed with emotions when she saw Hans sail away accompanied by a sailing instructor. “This is the best thing I have done since my injury” Hans said. “I am out of my wheelchair and in control of a sailboat and out in the elements”. The following weekend Hans and Miriam drove to Vancouver again to repeat the great experience from the previous weekend.

The following year Sam Sullivan met with Hans and Miriam to see if they could start a second chapter of the Disabled Sailing Association in Kelowna. In May of 1993 the second chapter of DSA opened.

Everybody can sail this boat, even people with no hand function can do so. The DSA can
provide sip and puff equipment, which allows a person to sail the boat through an electronic relay, which is controlled by sipping and blowing through a straw.

It is truly amazing, not only what Rick accomplished, but also what resulted from his incredible voyage. In every major city in Canada including the Maritimes there is now a chapter of the Disabled Sailing Association.

DSA in Kelowna now has four sailboats. We have sailing instructors with a lot of experience. We sail from the beginning of May into September out of the Kelowna Yacht Club, downtown on Water Street.