Meta Frasch has been sailing since she was 10 years old.
"I just enjoyed the water, and in sailing I could be out on my own," she said. "So I just took off on a Sunfish."
The pleasures of open water, warm sun and ocean breezes pale in comparison, however, to the satisfaction Frasch earns from her work with Special Olympics sailing.
"Just seeing the bond our athletes develop with everybody and their growth as a team as we come along, that is what is so rewarding about it," she said.
Frasch, 56 and a physical therapist who lives in Charleston, has run the South Carolina Special Olympics sailing team since it launched in 2005. She has taken a group of athletes to Athens, Greece, for the Special Olympics World Summer Games as the head coach for Team USA sailing.
The sailing team draws intellectually disabled athletes and their "unified partners" from Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Frasch's son, recent University of South Carolina graduate Wayne Hiott, will also be on the team as one of the unified partners who sail with the athletes, to teach them and keep them safe.
The World Games begin today and conclude July 4. The sailing venue is in Schinias, Greece, site of the Olympic sailing events in 2004.
"It's exciting," said Frasch, who went to the Special Olympics World Games in China four years ago as an assistant coach. "But it's also a big responsibility. I'm looking forward to it."
Frasch has seen firsthand the impact that sailing can have on those with Down syndrome and other disabilities. Her South Carolina Special Olympics sailing program now has 14 athletes and about 20 unified partners she works with out of Charleston Community Sailing and the James Island Yacht Club.
"Just feeling that freedom out on the water, and the connection with their partner in the boat," she said. "The ability to know what they need to improve to get to the next level and to have something to work toward, that's important. And it makes them more aware of their surroundings, what the clouds and water are doing."
Helen Royal, whose 19-year-old son Christian has Down syndrome, has seen a big change in her son since he began sailing with Frasch's team.
"He'd always been very shy, on the exterior of social gatherings," Royal said, "even with other kids with social disabilities. He was 19, and we were beginning to wonder if it ever was going to happen.
"But this year with the sailing program, everyone has noticed that Christian is interacting with others and thoroughly enjoying himself. I credit Meta and her staff there for Christian really coming out at the age of 19. She and her staff are so dedicated."
Frasch's son Hiott, a sailing instructor at JIYC who now works in the athletic department at USC, said the unified partners -- mostly high school and college sailors -- get as much out of the program as the athletes themselves.
"No doubt about it," he said. "It's one of those instant gratification things. You get to experience them doing something out of the normal for them in sailing, and to see them overcome that, that's the coolest part of it for me."
How dedicated are the unified partners? One of them, a student at Clemson, attempted to ride his bike from Clemson to an event in Macon, Ga., after his scheduled ride fell through.
"Some of them have gone off to college, but they love to come back for practices and events," Frasch said. "They are pretty dedicated."
Make no mistake -- the athletes and their partners are in it to win, as well.
"They are very competitive," she said. "There is a lot of sulking when things don't go right. As a coach, you really have to keep it all positive and try to turn them around, so that the next race or the next day, they are positive again."
Special Olympic sailors progress through five levels, each more independent than the last, until they are able to sail single-handed. Sometimes, though, progress can be measured just in the lifting of a head.
"Sometimes it's just when you get them to open up and look at the things around them," Hiott said. "A lot of times, they just grin and bear it when they first get in the boat. But the more you take them out, the more talkative and confident they become. It's great to see."
These athletes will compete in Greece:
Teresa Boehme // York County // Bocce
Wallace Gamble // Beaufort County // Equestrian
Leigh Garner // Lexington County // Equestrian
Kylie MacFarland // Charleston County // Tennis
Demi Hiepner // Lexington County // Tennis
Emily Severance // York County // Bowling
Andrew Whaley // Greenville County // Track & Field
Rashawn Young // Beaufort County // Equestrian