Paul Tingley, a decorated sailor and three-time paralympic medalist from Halifax, was inducted into the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame on November 19, 2022.
After a skiing accident at age 24 left Tingley paralyzed from the waist down, he was paired with local physiotherapist and decorated sailor Judy Lugar. It didn’t take the young Tingley long to develop an interest in the sport. His first time out on the water after the accident gave him a chance to forget about his injury and embrace a new activity.
“The boat was beautifully set up for people with disabilities. I had great instructors and I loved it. I was over the moon and happy to be outside and be challenged.”
From getting his start in 1995, Tingley began to hone his skills over the summer when he sailed for 100 days straight, twice a day. The next summer, he was given an opportunity to travel to Vancouver for a regatta called The Mobility Cup.
In 1998, after being stuck inside for three days during a snowstorm, Tingley made the decision to move to Victoria to put more time into training, with the aspiration of starting a professional career in sailing.
“At that point, I was two or three years into it, and I was like ‘I want to go for this. I’m going to quit my job at the bank, go out to Victoria and join a team and try to go to Sydney, Australia in 2000,’” said Tingley.
Tingley made it to the Sydney Paralympics in 2000, where he and his team took home a bronze medal for Canada. After 2004, Tingley competed in single-handed races in each subsequent Paralympics until 2016, where he won another bronze, and then transitioned to coaching for the delayed Tokyo 2020 games.
During the 2008 games, Tingley was the first Canadian in Olympic or Paralympic sailing to win a gold medal. According to him, preparation and research made all the difference in this impressive victory.
“I did a lot of research before the Paralympics. I watched every Olympic event on TV.
There was a channel with a live feed,” said Tingley. “In China, it was very difficult conditions, because it was very choppy, there was a light wind, it was hot — like 30 degrees every day — and there was a lot of current. There’s a lot of things you’ve really got to make sure that you don’t make an error in and I found that some of the people were making those errors. Because I had watched everything, I was ready for that. I was going in with the mentality that I could win, but nobody knew that I could.”
In 2010, Tingley also competed in the Open World Championships in Hoorn, the Netherlands. Competitors in this race sail a 2.4-metre keelboat, which is designed for a single person. The controls for these keelboats are all within reach of the helmsperson, and the weight of the occupant is close to these boats’ centre of gravity. These factors make the races accessible regardless of age, fitness level, ability or gender.
Regardless of the accessibility of the 2.4-metre, competition is stiff.
“There are 80-some competitors there, and there are a lot of able-bodied, and they’re all really good sailors in their own rights,” said Tingley. “They would do Olympic campaigns, and they would do the 2.4 as they retire from their Olympic campaigns.”
Tingley managed to come out on top and place first in the 2010 Open and became the first sailor with a disability to win an open-class world championship.
“The boat allows all abilities to race evenly against each other, so I really didn’t see being able-bodied or disabled really mattered as much. Because I had practiced so much — I think I had practiced more than able-bodied people did — I was pretty in tune with the boat, and boat speed and all that kind of stuff,” said Tingley. “I was very lucky to do very well there because when you have 80 people on a racecourse, you can get caught up with other boats. You can get in situations with other boats and all of a sudden, you’re out of the running. So, I was able to sail clean for the whole week and on the last day, I had a chance to win it. I chose the right side of the course to go, and that made all the difference.”
These achievements have accumulated into Tingley’s induction into the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame. He says he was humbled by the award and the support circle that was there for him from the time of his accident to his recent induction.
“It’s not something that you go into the sport for, but to be recognized for all your hard work — there’s a certain amount of respect to be recognized that way,” said Tingley. “That night was so special, because of all the friends and family that were there. They supported me 25 years ago when I had my accident, and now it’s 25 years later. Same people are supporting me, but I’m now part of the Sports Hall of Fame.”
Tingley credits his success to a good attitude, hard work and perseverance.
“It’s not easy on certain days to have a disability, but it is your circumstance, so you’ve got to make the most out of it,” said Tingley. “You can’t sit around and have a bad attitude about it.”