Last weekend’s U.S. Disabled Sailing Championships, hosted by the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, was an appropriate setting to celebrate and honor one of disabled sailing’s most outstanding contributors. Peter Goldman, a representative of the Council for Sailors with Disabilities, presented long-time disabled sailing supporter Linda Merkle with US SAILING’s 2010 Gay S. Lynn Memorial Trophy.
The Gay S. Lynn Memorial Trophy is awarded to an individual or an organization, selected by the Council for Sailors with Disabilities, as having made an outstanding contribution to sailors with disabilities and to the sport of disabled sailing over a sustained period of time.
Linda, a native of Atlanta, first became interested in disabled sailing during the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games where she served as a volunteer. When Savannah was ruled an unsuitable venue, the competition was moved to the Lake Lanier Sailing Club (Linda was the first female Commodore of the club), which was an easy commute for Linda. That experience left a deep impression on Linda.
“The success of that event and the friendships begun at that event are among my happiest accomplishments,” said Linda. “It has led me along paths I never expected and the rewards and wonderful memories are limitless.”
After the Paralympics, she started volunteering at other disabled sailing venues throughout the United States. Several years later, her interests in disabled sailing lead her to join the Council for Sailors with Disabilities. She served as the council secretary for a few years and for the last three years she has been the council chairperson.
She also became chairperson of the International Federation of Disabled Sailors (IFDS) Technical Committee. She then joined the IFDS Executive Board and served as the vice president. Two years later, in 2008, she became IFDS President. In this role, she has been working with countries from around the world to further the sport of disabled sailing. Linda has done a great deal to increase the visibility of disabled sailing both within the U.S. and internationally.
Linda talks to sailors first hand by attending disabled sailing events on a regular basis, and travels at her own expense. When visiting an event, Linda helps with the race committee, jury and classification, and pitching in wherever she is needed.
“It has been my joy and pleasure to use my skills as a sailor, a teacher, and a manager to further the growth of the sport, not just at the elite level, but for all sailors,” Linda explained. “What an opportunity we have to share the freedom and joy of sailing with all, and those of us who love it so much can share that pleasure of discovery and success with people everywhere.”