February 2, 2024

The Spirito di Stella Sails into Miami with a Hero’s Welcome!

Shake-A-Leg Miami toasted the arrival of the Spirito di Stella Wednesday, January 31, 2024, on the first leg of its two-year global voyage. Dozens of well-wishers – including members from the Italian Consulate and Ministers of Defense (among other dignitaries) - raised a glass to the crew’s safe dockage along Biscayne Bay. The 56' wheelchair-accessible Catamaran, which made its first U.S. stop in Miami, will continue to raise its sails and spread goodwill and new possibilities for wounded veterans and people with disabilities as well as to able-bodied persons alike.

Under a cloudless sky, this remarkable vessel inspired and empowered individuals with disabilities showcasing how state-of-the-art technologies, talent, and support can offer unlimited possibilities!

For Andrea Stella, visionary of this project, the sky’s the limit for those who seek to enhance their independence and achieve their dreams. According to Stella, more than 10,000 people with disabilities have partaken in these international journeys.

“I think generally, when you give opportunities to other people, it’s also an opportunity for me because moving on a wheelchair I know exactly what it means and what they are feeling...” he said.  

Despite an accident and paralysis of the lower limbs, Stella remained true to himself and what he loved best! Among them, the ocean. With the help of family and friends, he built a Catamaran equipped to allow people with disabilities to enjoy the water.  

Among those sailors is Luis Roja-Valentín, a 40-year-old military veteran severely injured in the line of duty in Iraq, in 2008. After attempting to get an injured soldier medevac’d out of the area of danger, Luis returned to the firefight scanning for snipers when an IED exploded next to him. He lost both legs and left arm, including other injuries.  

“Never in a million years,” he said of his first trip on the Spirito di Stella, “would I have thought sailing across from the Bahamas into Miami...I’m not a boat person...I’m really not”, he said. “But I couldn’t say ‘no’ to an adventure like that!”  

And the adventure continues in and out of the water at.Shake-A-Leg Miami, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the health, education, and independence of individuals with disabilities through water sports and recreational activities. SALM is also causing quite a splash around the world. With the City of Miami, this organization provides inclusive programs and services that empower individuals to overcome challenges and achieve their full potential. With a focus on accessibility, Shake-A-Leg Miami ensures that everyone, regardless of ability, can participate and thrive in a supportive and inclusive environment.

Harry Horgan is president and co-founder of this beloved water sports organization, Shake-A-Leg Miami. For him, the anchoring of the Spirito di Stella on Biscayne Bay was a testimony to how the military values their wounded soldiers.

“When Andrea (Stella) presented this global tour to inspire people with disabilities to do more and to integrate people; for me to see the Italian military step up and say ‘We want to help! We want to be part of it!’ is amazing,” he said.  

“Here they are coming to Miami and the military community in Miami comes forward to say ‘Wow, we want to learn more about this, and we want to see how we can work together to help more of the wounded veterans live a better life, and with the relationship we have with Andrea and his crew, we can accomplish that!’ “And we’re proud of that!” he added.

Andrea’s goodwill did not end there. Ten years ago, he invited Deborah Mellen for a three-week expedition aboard the Spirito di Stella. This first of many journeys inspired her to give back. An accomplished businesswoman, paraplegic, and sailing volunteer at SALM, she decided to fund and dock the Impossible Dream, in Miami. Today, this 58’ Catamaran, built in 2002, remains at the forefront of barrier-free sailboat design, traversing the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans, creating access to the water for thousands of people with disabilities.