Sailor with ALS eyes 2008 Olympics

Embraces life after diagnosis, voted Yachtsman of the Year by U.S. Sailing

By Josh Mankiewicz
NBC News
Updated: 6:25 p.m. ET Feb. 3, 2006

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. - Nick Scandone and his wife, Mary Kay, are partners and good friends, as it turned out, in health and in sickness.

"I went into the doctors just for some back pain, and I came out with diagnosed ALS," says Nick. "[It] just seemed way too far-fetched than I would ever believe."

Nick has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease. It is slowly paralyzing and always incurable. Most of the unlucky few who get it don't last five years.

Four years ago, an ALS diagnosis was crushing news, but for Nick Scandone, it was an opportunity to change his life. He quit his marketing job and headed straight for the water.

"A big part of this disease is looking forward to your death," he says. "And I don't want to do that. I want to look forward to my life, and so that's why I'm doing what I enjoy doing so much."

Back in his 20s, Nick had been a champion sailor with Olympic ambitions. Now, as he fights ALS, he's thinking about Beijing in 2008.

"My disease has actually brought me back into competitive racing and given me the opportunity to get to the Olympics like I wanted to many years ago," he says.

As his strength ebbed, Nick needed a boat he could handle. He's racing the Olympic 2.4-meter yacht and he's winning. In September he won the world championship not for disabled sailors, for everyone and was named U.S. Sailing's Rolex Yachtsman of the Year.

"Nick was judged evenly with other able-bodied sailors, and this award is based on his performance without any compensation or adjustment for his disability," says Dean Brenner, chairman of the U.S. Olympic Sailing Committee.

He moves more easily on the water than most of us do on dry land.

"Just because you become disabled doesn't mean that you can't reach a goal that you never thought you could," says Nick.

Nick has for years taught sailing to kids and seniors, and he will continue to do so, as long as he is able, showing them what's possible when you put your mind to it.

"What did Lou Gehrig say in that speech? You know, 'he's the luckiest man alive'? Well, right now I feel that way."

Nick Scandone is sailing into the sunset without letting go of his dreams.

Nick welcomes your e-mails at

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