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    Fighting the desease on a boat: Sail 4 Parkinson crosses the Gulf of Oristano

    The Santa Maria pitches slowly over the small water ripples raised by the western wind, traces a route where the Gulf of Oristano bends into the Sinis Peninsula, a huge amygdala carved in the coastline. The pond of Cabras vanishes replaced by the low profile of the promontory, from the columns of Tharros, slender chalks at the distance. The sun declines in the late afternoon, it is gold and then amber in the reverberations that light up and go out just beyond the slipstream.

    "Sailing unleashes something incredible in me, I can't find the words to describe how I feel. The wind welcomes you, and you must be focused, attentive to the actions of others so that everything goes as it should. I'm changing therapy these days, you see, although a period of adaptation is necessary, I speak almost well. I move much better than I would if I were on dry land, even if it seems absurd" says Giulio Maldacea devouring his own words, coiled up in the bow and ready to jump to facilitate the unfolding of the genoa sail in the sudden changes of direction taken by the Santa Maria. He has worked in many companies, known Africa as a cooperator before Parkinson emerged in the first symptoms, thirteen years ago.

    Only half an hour before on the pier Giulio, Luca, Adele and Filippa practiced the recovery of the ropes, stretched in the alternation of the hands while the legs move steadily on the asphalt, as in the simulation of a contest. "On the boat, when something happens, I cry: like on the dock! They remember and manage to neutralize the emotion of the moment, focusing on the gesture" explains Daniela Meloni, skipper and president of the “Limolo activities" Association of Cabras. The "Sail 4 Parkinson" project is now in its eighth edition in three years. Ten days of dance, theater, music and sailing organized by Limolo, the non-profit organization "Parkinzone" and the theater company "Clessidra". 

    "They don't find themselves repeating an exercise twenty times on a dumb machine, in a closed gym. In the boat the physical activity runs together with intellectual processing and teamwork. All together they must respond through the boat to the solicitations of nature. The stimuli are multiple, wind and sea involve all the senses. It’s an awakening”, continues Meloni. The first meeting takes place on the ground, where the crew learns the basics of the boat, and through the first exercises Meloni identifies difficulties and imagines roles in navigation. The goal is the overcoming of the limit, the wall raised in the daily progress of progressive degeneration. Today every element of the team manages its role in total autonomy, "like, better than a healthy person". Last year the Sail 4 Parkinson crew conquered the thirteenth position in the Legionari regatta of Porto Rotondo.  

    "It is my third boat experience", says retired primary school teacher Adele Peluso, while the rest of the crew swarms by the agitation of a turn, and the winches whirl between the indications and the encouragement of the skipper at the helm. "I learned to know my feelings better, to know my fears, to accept the disease. After the diagnosis, every certainty collapses. In the boat we learn to create ambitious projects. We must be able to respect the wind direction, and avoid of being overwhelmed in the attempt to fight it. We learn to react on days of calm, when the temptation is to take refuge in illness. We must open up to the outside world, relationships of a group are the most powerful drug".

    "Parkinson undermines the automatisms of our brain, capable in normal conditions of constantly checking the processes of movement and adaptation. In normal conditions, gratification ends up in strengthening the mechanism. Parkinson is a bit like in an airplane, if the manual pilot works, but the automatic one does not. Everything becomes more difficult and complex. Suddenly the command that should give rise to a step is ignored”, explains Dr. Nicola Modugno, neurologist for Neuromed, an important research center in Molise. The Santa Maria performs in convulsive trajectories, Meloni moves the team to continuous changes of direction, circle after circle in a slow approach to the port.

    "The body’s hindrances determine important effects on the psyche", continues Modugno. "Anxiety, fear, depression that in a vicious circle worsen all the movement-related skills. Freeing or rewinding the bow, facing the contingencies of the weather, the commander’s orders and the companions’ actions helps to reactivate and improve the automatisms. So do the proxemics of the theater and the power of music. In the last twenty years we have understood that if drugs and physiotherapy are used to reduce symptoms, only sport and art can enhance the motoric faculties, psycho-physical reaction patterns that patients can then apply to daily life".

    After dinner the group will meet again on the beach for a long chat, the day will be retraced in detail: defeats, victories, frustrations, brief instants of liberation. The calm voices of the Santa Maria belong to men and women who have learned to establish a ruthless dialogue with themselves.

    "On the boat we are constantly pushed to overcome our limits. Every day a person with Parkinson wakes up feeling six months older than the day before. Limits strangle you. Going beyond means reconquering small spaces in life", says Luca Berti, his trembling hand on the wheel points the bow towards the port. A computer programmer, he had to quit his job a year ago, when the disease shattered the attention and the ability of the fingers to dominate the keyboard. "All the activities included in the project give you something. Navigation awakens balance, forcing the body to constantly find a compromise with the changing inclination. Light, sea, wind, oscillations. We develop new strategies and bring them into ordinary life".

    Fenders get untied from the stern and distributed around, Giulio gets ready with the boathook at the mooring, Adele covers the mainsail. Filippa Santoro closes a rope into a spiral. The illness came after retirement, when after many years of teaching she had finally the chance to travel and discover the vast world. "I will carry the sea into my eyes, the lapping of the boat, all the sounds will dwell inside me. Parkinzone’s activities have been very important over the years. Especially those that put us in a position to help the others. We have nothing to complain about. Solidarity is the most powerful drug".

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