Tourette Syndrome Through Sailing – Parker S.

Parker was a first place winner of a 2023 NJCTS Scholarship Award. 

This was the essay he included with his application.

Very few inventions stand the test of time. Over 60,000 years ago, the sailboat was created to allow people to travel far distances over water or expedition freely. Today, the same principle stands true. No matter the size of the boat, big or small, a gust of mighty wind across the sail quickly lifts the boat onto one side. The sailor swiftly tenses up and holds the rudder and main sheet, ensuring the boat does not tip too far. For many, sailing is a relaxing getaway, steering the vessel into the sunset. For some, it is an occupation, constantly manipulating their boat to reach its maximum potential speed to cross the finish line before the others. Sailing is an experience that is tailored to the captain. For me, sailing embodies the caveats of life. When I learned how to sail ten years ago, the first and foremost lesson was how to rig the boat. The parts of the boat build on each other starting from the basics to the accessories that make sailing easier. Such parts can resemble a human’s time here on Earth. The hull is the structure of the boat and without any propelling force, the hull drifts. Like the human body: a figure that without any direction stays idle. The sail helps put the hull into motion; it catches the wind and pushes the boat forward. The sail illustrates desires. Desires are conscious impulses that cause us to exceed our goals and motivate us through life. However, even through all of this, boats deal with a factor they cannot control: rough waters. The sailor can rig their boat as much as they want, but the waters will always prohibit the sailor’s ability to voyage comfortably. My rough water is Tourette Syndrome.

Growing up with Tourette Syndrome has been rocky. It can present itself aggressively right as you are sailing at top speed. Other times, it may not even be noticeable during a peaceful voyage. Stress, anxiety, and cleanliness are all accelerators of my tics and make them progressively more frustrating and noticeable. There have been moments when the waves have been rough and I have felt like I was capsizing. For example, in the beginning, I did not know why I was doing this thing called “ticing” and why the kids in school were poking fun and asking me why I was winking at them. But in reality, I had no authority over my brain; I was just doing what it was telling me to do, like a ship being overtaken by choppy waters. Or in moments where I try to organize my daily schedule, finding enough time in between activities to shower so I feel clean enough to hopefully not get a chance at feeling the constant itch to squeeze my eye, flex my stomach, or feel like I have to flex every bone in my body. With some luck, I hope I can blend in so no one thinks strangely of me.

But as I have grown older, I have learned to navigate the rough waters of Tourette Syndrome. I have learned to hold onto the rudder of self-acceptance and to use my tics as a sail, propelling me forward in life. As I came to understand, the key is not to try and fit in by hiding or suppressing my quirks, but rather to embrace them and bring them with me into every situation, even during high-stakes moments like a crucial playoff tennis match when the urge to tic or fidget might be particularly strong.

I have learned that it is not the smooth sailing that defines us but instead how we handle the challenges and setbacks that come our way. And through my journey with Tourette Syndrome, I have learned to be resilient and to persevere, no matter how rough the waters may get.



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