In March 1982, Pete and Liz Fordred began an incredible 18-month sailing adventure across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to Florida. They sailed by themselves as paraplegics, which in both their cases meant similar below-the-chest paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries at about the T-4 level.
‘I was training a horse at an international event,’ said 53-year-old Liz Fordred in a telephone interview of her accident in the 1970s. ‘The horse was tired and had been going all morning. I don’t really know what happened, but others have said it was a simple jump. I must have lost my balance and gone over his shoulder. As for my husband, Pete was in a car accident at 19 and wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.’
The National Spinal Cord Injury Association Web site reports that 250,000-400,000 Americans have a spinal cord injury. Most were injured ‘in auto and sports accidents, falls, and industrial mishaps.’ Most are men, and nearly two-thirds were younger than 30 at the time of the accident.
‘Initially we wanted a challenge for ourselves,’ said Fordred of sailing the Atlantic Ocean. ‘You are devastated once you have an accident that severe. Physically you feel useless. Then once we started building (our own accessible) sailboat, I could see ourselves becoming physically and mentally [sharper].’
The Fordreds self-financed their trip. They had to build their sailboat from scratch because of not being able to find an accessible one for sale.
She said the story of their sailing has inspired a great number of people. They still receive positive feedback from readers of their book An Ocean to Cross, published in 2000. Today, they have a 20-year-old daughter, and for the last 18 years have co-owned a Ft. Lauderdale small-engine repair business of eight employees, The Power Center. At home and work, the Fordreds get around using manual wheelchairs.
Said Fordred, ‘There is so much to deal with when you have a spinal cord injury. You need to realize your life hasn’t come to an end. There are many things you can do if you want to do them. Don’t think you can’t do anything, because that’s just you blocking your own mind. You just have to be determined that you can do it. What we did (sailing the Atlantic Ocean) proved that fact.’