Paralympic Gold Medalist Nick Scandone Loses Battle with ALS
2008 Paralympic Gold Medalist Nick Scandone passed away January 2, 2009, after a long battle with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. An avid sailor since he was a child, Scandone reached his ultimate goal of a Paralympic gold medal this past summer in Qingdao, China with SKUD-18 teammate Maureen McKinnon-Tucker.
Scandone beat the odds of his disease by not only being strong enough to compete at the 2008 Paralympic Games, but by winning the gold medal a day early, with two races left to go. When Scandone and McKinnon-Tucker were awarded their gold medals, they received a thunderous round of applause of appreciation and admiration from their fellow international competitors.
A beloved and inspirational figure in the sailing world, Scandone made a lasting impression on everyone he met. Some say he lived to sail – and sailed to live. "Without sailing, I don't know where I'd be," Scandone said after winning the gold medal.
The following are tributes and stories from several of his teammates and fellow sailors:
“Over the past 6 years since Nick was diagnosed with ALS, competitive sailing has been his fundamental mission. As the illness got worse, Nick worked even harder on his racing. The results speak for themselves winning a Gold medal at the 2008 Paralympic Games and earning the Rolex Yachtsman of the Year award in 2005. Nick was an inspiration to all of us and will be missed.” – Gary Jobson, sailing ambassador/broadcaster/writer
“I had never seen nor will I ever see again such a true example of how someone could LIVE FOR something. Nick showed pure human will: He spared all other elements of his life that would take an ounce of sailing distance out of him. He saved expenditure of energy for only ONE THING...sailing. When he didn't want to eat, he ate to sail. When he didn't want to swallow, he drank water to sail. Everything was to sail. And more specifically, everything was for the goal: the gold. If he hadn't had his eyes on that prize, I assure you he would have passed long before now. We all have life lessons to learn from Nick both on land and at sea. Nick was a kind, calm, confident, unpretentious, mentoring, generous person and a brilliant, brilliant sailor. By being Nick's teammate, I have been rewarded by being both a better sailor and better person – and so have all of us who knew him.” -- Maureen McKinnon –Tucker, 2008 Paralympic Games Gold Medalist, Nick’s teammate in the SKUD-18 class
“The sport of sailing has lost a great competitor and the most inspirational person most of us will ever know. Words can’t describe the pride so many people felt watching Nick take the last few steps towards his dream in China last summer. He was a gold medalist on and off the water, and we’ll miss him dearly.” - Dean Brenner, Chairman of US SAILING’s Olympic Sailing Program
“Nick was one of the most quiet, unassuming athletes I have ever worked with. His laid back demeanor masked a fiercely determined competitor, highly skilled at his chosen sport of sailing. Though his successes were many over the years with accolades coming from many directions, he was never boastful about his achievements but remained privately satisfied in having reached his goals. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to work with Nick as a coach, to count myself as one of his friends, to know that he was a driving force in Paralympic sailing and an amazing example to all of us (disabled and able bodied alike) that nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it regardless of the challenges that may stand in your way.” - Betsy Alison, 2008 Paralympic Team Head Coach
“While some might say that Nick lost his battle with ALS, we believe that would be an erroneous statement. He won his battle on September 8th when he and Maureen took to the water in Qingdao for the first race of the Paralympic regatta. He won the war with ALS on Sept 12th when they clinched the gold medal, achieving his life's ambition. Nick was a tremendous inspiration and example to us as we dealt with our son's cancer, as he chose to live life and pursue his dream -- something that few of us actually do. We are honored and proud to have known him and to have been chosen to be part of his dream. Thank you, Nick, for all that you have given us. Fair winds and following seas...” - Dan Tucker, Friend and husband of Nick’s 2008 Paralympic Games teammate Maureen McKinnon-Tucker
"Nick and Maureen clinched the gold medal at the Paralympic Games with a day of racing to spare. However, this did not stop the dynamic duo from going out on the race course for the last day to enjoy the moment of glory, and show respect to their fellow competitors. Nick (and Maureen) went to the Games to win a medal, but they also went to go sailing. I found Nick’s love for the sport to be truly inspiring; even after his win, he still went for one last sail. I have also never seen a wider smile. It was truly contagious, to me, to Maureen, to Betsy, and all those to who knew Nick." -- Sarah Hawkins, 2008 Paralympic Games Team Leader
“Nick and I drove back to the hotel together after the closing ceremonies in Beijing. We were both flying out in the morning and I said good-bye to him. I started to say I would see you later and had to stop. Knowing I would never see him again. He looked at me and said, “just keep sailing.” I shook his hand and gave his wife a hug and we went into the hotel. From this point on, every time I race a sailboat, I will think of him with a gold medal hanging on him, overcoming insurmountable odds to win the gold and his last words to me: "JUST KEEP SAILING." -- Bill Donohue, 2008 Paralympic Team in the Sonar class
“I had a chance to spend a lot of time with Nick over in China. His encouragement and faith in me was that tiny extra help that made a tremendous difference in the outcome. Nick was a friend and a competitor everyone respected.” – John Ruf, 2008 Paralympic Games Bronze Medalist in 2.4 mR class
"On behalf of the Royal Yachting Association Racing Department I would like to say how saddened we were to hear of the passing away of Nick Scandone. Like many, we were aware of the consequences of his illness but were stilled shocked to hear of the loss of a great sailor. His passing really does bring home how remarkable his achievements of this summer were. His battles both on and off the water were an inspiration to disabled and able bodied sailors alike." - John Derbyshire, RYA Racing Manager & Performance Director; Stephen Park, RYA Olympic and Paralympic Manager; Barrie Edgington, RYA Development Squad Manager
"Nick knew what he wanted to accomplish, and he kept himself alive for the Olympics. When he was diagnosed with [ALS], we thought it would be a couple years. Around the fourth year he had his eyes set on the Olympics, and we all said, well, that's great to have that goal, but no one thought he would be that strong to last two years. He willed himself through it. It was an incredible, incredible journey." -- Nick’s brother Vincent “Rocky” Scandone told The LA Times
There will be a memorial service on Sunday, January 18 at 2pm at Balboa Yacht Club, 1801 Bayside Drive, Corona del Mar, Calif., 92625. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the ALS Association, www.alsa.org, or Nick's foundation, the BYC Maritime Sciences and Seamanship Foundation:
In memory of Nick Scandone
1901 Newport Blvd. Suite 350
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
All Donations are tax deductible (#33-1102882).
For more information and background on Nick Scandone, please read his bio on the US SAILING web site: http://olympics.ussailing.org/The_Team/Nick_Scandone.htm
For more news, blogs and photos of Nick, please visit his web site at www.alove4sailing.com
To watch his interview on The Today Show, please visit: http://olympics.ussailing.org/Current__News/Nick_Scandone_Fighting_to_Compete_in_Beijing.htm
To read the obituaries written about Nick, please visit:
The New York Times
The LA Times
The Orange County Register