Life often gets in the way of doing the things we love, including sailing.
Work, relationships, family, illness and other contributing factors leave the very best of us hurrying through life in an attempt to meet deadlines and juggle happiness.
An extraordinary person regaining this love of sailing is Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Member Greg Pugh.
Greg is a 50-year-old sailor from Newcastle who one year ago stepped back onto the carousel of sailing and has since redefined what it takes to be a successful individual.
Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in December 2008, Greg has been coming to terms with living with MS.
“The family and I were in Queensland on holidays and I couldn’t read a couple of boards properly, I figured I just needed to have a check-up when I got home and get some glasses,” Greg explained.
“Things got pretty weird from then on in; I got glasses but then referred to doctors for further tests, MRI scans and eventually a neurologist appointment that confirmed I had a brain tumour and MS.”
Fortunately the brain tumour was benign but MS was confirmed and immediately took over Greg’s life.
“The scariest part was holding out both my arms, closing my eyes and when the doctor asked me to touch my left finger on my nose, I couldn’t do it and I still can’t. It was like I had a mini stroke down the left side of my body.”
From a young age Greg was on the water. Like many young sailors he started out on dinghies and progressed to 16 foot skiffs before finding his niche aboard 18 foot skiffs.
Then came long hours at work and loving family, limiting his capacity to get to his local club in Newcastle. Life got in the way of sailing.
When Greg was diagnosed with MS, he struggled to adapt. Life with a walking stick and with the prospect of never being able to work again, Greg succumbed to a world of helplessness, supported by steroid injections and suppressants to stop his immune system attacking his central nervous system.
“I was sitting in the pub about a year ago, feeling sorry for myself and I saw this thing on Facebook called Oceans of Hope. I did a bit of research and applied and everything has just happened from that point.”
Ocean’s of Hope is a 67-foot yacht undertaking the first global circumnavigation with a working crew of people living with MS, which aims to change perceptions of MS by showing what is possible when people with a chronic disease are empowered to conquer their individual challenges.
Greg was put in contact with Sailors with Disabilities (SWD) at the CYCA to prepare for the Ocean’s of Hope voyage and found himself racing in the 2014 Land Rover Winter Series.
Things then snowballed positively and Greg found himself aboard Wot Eva in the 70th Anniversary of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
“It was an amazing experience, I loved it. You’re out there in the elements and I remember being off the Coast of Tasmania and asked how close are we? It is all just incredible.”
“Then being on Ocean’s of Hope was just incredible too. I boarded in Samoa and we sailed to Tonga and then on to New Zealand.”
“New Zealand to Australia was interesting with 40-50 knot winds on the second day in, which eventually died down but we then had six to eight metre swells across the Tasman and the wind came back about 24 hours out from Sydney with 50 knot gusts that knocked us down.
“That was an experience, 40 tonnes of boat on its side, but it eventually corrected itself.”
Docking safe and sound at the CYCA, Greg was greeted by his three kids.
“Sailing for the last year has totally changed my life.”
“I was just going through the motions looking after my kids thinking that was it in life and then this opportunity (Oceans of Hope) popped up and now, look where I am.”
Greg assists MS Australia with public speaking at special events sharing his journey and the adversity he overcomes on a daily basis.
“The scariest thing is not knowing what is going to happen tomorrow,” Greg concluded in regards to living with MS.
But one thing is certain. Greg will continue sailing with SWD from the CYCA because sailing is his passion that gives him purpose and hope.
Stacey French - CYCA Media