Through sailing, a path was found to self-confidence His son's success learning boat skills inspired man's program to teach disabled


After numerous failed attempts to build his 13-year-old son's confidence and self-esteem through football and baseball, James Muldoon noticed something.

Jimmy, who was severely learning disabled because of complications during birth, had mastered the art of sailing with little effort.

Right lesson, wrong methods.

"Poor Jimmy got a baseball in the lip a couple times before I was smart enough to realize that he didn't see the ball coming fast enough," said Muldoon, 57, an avid sailor and vice president of the United States Sailing Association. "This kid, who didn't know left from right, knew port from starboard. It really helped his self-image and confidence."

Muldoon, owner of four businesses, was inspired by his son's success to develop a sailing program for other learning-disabled youths.

Now in its 12th year, his "Sail Training Program for Learning Disabled Youths" has found a permanent home at the Annapolis Sailing School in Eastport.

The program, developed for children between 11 and 14, introduces students to sailing while building self-confidence, Muldoon said.

In the program, students learn from instructors certified by the U.S. Sailing Association, most of whom have direct experience teaching children with learning disabilities.

They learn about nautical miles, first aid, how to gauge wind direction and most important, how to take care of themselves in the elements.

These are lessons learned through individual instruction and hands-on experience by sailing alone or as a team.

The first big obstacle for students, Muldoon said, is turning a boat over and then righting it to conquer their fear of falling into the water. After that, he says, things get easier.

But the lessons learned prove to be more than just about sailing, said the younger Muldoon, now 26 and a network administrator for a computer integration company in Virginia.

"With sailing, it's not just one person being the most important person, but more of a team effort," said Jimmy Muldoon, who spent nine years teaching class in the program. "A lot of these kids don't just learn sailing, what they do learn is that this is something they can do. This is the first time they can feel like 'I have accomplished something on my own.'

"For learning-disabled students, it's hard to get that feeling often."

With the success of the program over the years, the elder Muldoon said, it was time to move to the sailing school.

The program -- jointly sponsored by his business, the Brendan Corp. and the Shearwater Sailing Club -- had worked for years without a headquarters and randomly had chosen different sites for classes.

The Annapolis Sailing School has run similar sailing programs for visually, physically and hearing impaired sailors for years, said Jerry Wood, founder and president.

Now, the Muldoons said, it is their hope that the program will continue to help others as much as it helped their family.

Father and son completed a race across the Atlantic Ocean in 1993 from Spain to Puerto Rico.

"I don't get many things I say that I can brag about, but sailing happens to be one area where I know I can," Jimmy Muldoon said, laughing.

His father agreed, saying, "I have at least one parent each year that tells me that the program has changed their child's life and that's all worth it to me."

The program will start July 8. For information, call (410) 267-7205 or (800) 638-9192.

Pub Date: 7/01/96

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