Nick Scandone: Sailor Battling ALS Wins Gold Medal

By: Gary Wosk
September 8, 2008

Nick Scandone, who has ALS, and Maureen McKinnon-Tucker today clinched the Gold Medal in the SKUD 18 sailboat racing competition of the Paralympic Games in Beijing. The two participated in some 11 races in Qingdao, China.

Nick
Nick Scandone and Maureen McKinnon-Tucker after winning their races.

Winning the Gold Medal and representing the United States was Scandone’s life-long dream.

Several months ago there still was some question about whether the 42-year-old Scandone, diagnosed with ALS in 2002, could actually participate in the games because of the disease.

“He has defied the odds before and did so again,” said Gary A. Leo, the president and CEO of The ALS Association, whose Orange County Chapter helps Scandone and his wife Mary Kate. “Nick Scandone is a tremendous inspiration to everyone in the world and especially those who are fighting a terrible disease and are looking for a meaning and purpose in life.”

At the Paralympic Games, Scandone and McKinnon-Tucker competed in the high-speed SKUD 18, a two-person sailboat despite the fact that he has no movement in his legs, his arms are extremely weak and he needs a power wheelchair to get around.

Others who have sailed against Scandone have learned to never count him out. The many races he has won over the last six years living with the disease speak for themselves; however, he does not consider himself a hero to the many people in the ALS community who do. In 2006, he was recognized as US SAILING’s Rolex Yachtsman of the Year after winning the 2.4 Metre Open World Championship − there were 88 competitors − in Italy.

“I live with ALS but ALS is not my life. I focus on what I can do and not what I cannot do,” Scandone said.

The equally strong-willed McKinnon-Tucker, who lives in Marblehead, Mass., also does not see herself as being inspirational. She was permanently paralyzed after she slipped and fell in 1992 while watching her husband, Dan Tucker, race J/24 sailboats in Rockland, Maine. Before the accident, she was a casual racing sailor. She was the first woman to represent the United States at the Paralympic Games.

A resident of Huntington Beach, Calif., where he lives with wife, Scandone believes keeping busy with the sport he has loved since he was 8 years old and competed in since 1974, and pursuing other interests, has contributed to his surviving longer than most people with ALS.

“I just try to create things that I have something to look forward to, which is why I think sailing has helped,” he said. “I try to accomplish something everyday.”

Like any great athlete who strives for excellence, Scandone made sure the effort he gave in China was his best. He left for Qingdao, China with members of his family so he could practice on the Yellow Sea.

Scandone credits others for making it possible for him to survive this long and still race sailboats.

“I have progressed just like everyone else, just a bit slower,” he said. I cannot type, walk and it is becoming more difficult to talk. Without the help of my wife, family, friends and others like The ALS Association, I do not think I would still be here.”

* Nick Scandone passed away in January 2009.

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