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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

“They’re My Eyes, I’m Their Knowledge”

Larry Mangini is middle-aged, but has a sunny outlook on life and is still learning and growing. Larry, a former police officer, had an associate’s degree in Law Enforcement and has attended UMass Boston for the past two years in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in Human Services. He also works as a sailing instructor here at UMB and recently was part of the first place team at the 11th Annual Blind Sailing National Championships held in Newport, R.I., August 22 and 23.

Larry happens to be a perfect candidate to compete in the Blind Sailing National Championships since he is an experienced sailor and is legally blind. Larry lost his sight four years ago due to blockage of the optic nerves. But that hasn’t slowed him down. “I’ve got to get a job-I want to be employed again,” Larry recalls thinking when he decided to return to school.

Tom Walsh runs the sailing facilities here at UMB, and Larry recalls his early encounters with Tom. “I was down here last year … I asked Tom, ‘I have impaired vision, but I’d love to get back into sailing, is it possible? I mean, liability-wise…who’s going to let a guy with impaired vision, a blind guy, out in a sailboat?’ ” But Tom Walsh encouraged Larry to pursue his goals.

Larry remembers being told he was a good enough sailor to go out on his own, “except for the sight thing.” Larry chuckles, “So I usually like to have a sighted guide.”

But Larry had his doubts about being an instructor. “I don’t want to hurt anyone, … I don’t want to be teeter-tottering on the edge of life all the time … You want relaxing and comfortable, especially with a new student, a new sailor.

“I’ve found I’ve got confidence, they’ve got confidence, … I’ve had students say, ‘Hey, will I get you again next week?’ You know how big and proud I feel about that? I hadn’t worked for years since I lost my sight.”

Larry was a police officer in Swampscott for 11 years, from 1974 until 1985, and then he was self-employed laying ceramic tile. Larry says he enjoyed the artistic nature of working with ceramic tile and received gratification from the satisfaction of his customers. “But then I lost my sight-there goes quality control,” Larry quips.

Larry, along with Sengil Inkiala, also legally blind, and Ken Legler and Roland Bussiere, both sighted guides, sail competitively through the SailBlind Program at the Carroll Center for the Blind, Newton, and use the facilities at the Courageous Sailing Center in Boston Harbor. Competitive blind sailing is based on standard ISAF rules modified to require that the blind sailors steer and trim the sails, assisted only by the verbal cues from the sighted guides.

The SailBlind program is directed by Arthur O’Neill. “Arthur, the VA … I could keep you busy just listing the people who have been angels to me,” Larry confides. “I have impaired vision, I have sight at 11 o’clock, peripheral vision,” Larry says pointing off to his side. “It’s like looking through a stained glass window-like yellowy shapes.”

But Larry’s new job has been a resounding success. “Now I can take a student out on day one-they’re my eyes, I’m their knowledge … they pick up some knowledge … And they need to learn even quicker when they’re out there with me,” Larry says with his usual humor.

The sailing program at UMB is fairly modest at present, with only limited interest from students, though it has grown in recent years. “I’d love to get a sailing team together.” Larry grins. “Scrimmages against BU, Tufts… We don’t have a football team, but we’ve got an ocean. I know there’s budget restraints,” Larry continues, “but I’ve gotta tell you, I’m looking for a job.” Larry is also very anxious to start sailing programs for community youth and disabled students.

“I’ve played football, and I’ve got to tell you, there’s no difference in that feeling, whether you’re in a boat or on the field, the competition, that ‘win’ attitude. And as long as you played your ass off, it makes no difference if you place first, second or fifth.”

But Larry obviously deserves to be a first place finisher. If you’d like to meet Larry, or any of the friendly staff with the sailing program, sailing lessons will continue to be offered on a regular basis until Oct. 13. You can make a reservation by calling the boat dock from noon until 5pm at 7-7899.