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April 10, 2019

Bold Stories: Unbound

For people living with serious disabilities, everyday life can be a big challenge, and spending quality time on the water can appear all but impossible.

Bold Stories: Unbound

Captain Mick Nealey aims to change that by spending his days helping those with disabilities regain a measure of independence and enjoy the ocean through Tranquil Adventures, a marine business that caters to the unique needs of those living with such challenges.

As a native Floridian, Nealey has spent the majority of his life on and around water and has fond memories of boating and fishing with his family as a young boy. Being on the water was a source of comfort and therapy for Capt. Mick, who survived Polio at the age of 2 and now lives with post-polio syndrome, which has slowed his movement but not his resolve. So for Nealey, helping others overcome obstacles to enjoy the water is truly personal.

“If I dwell on the pain and chronic fatigue from post-polio syndrome I would be very depressed,” said Nealey. “It's all in how you look at it! Do you see the glass as half empty or half full? I have a glass and it's refillable. Being on the water is my pain killer. Watching the wind and waves, while keeping an eye on the weather and taking care of my guests, keeps my mind off the pain. When you are in the water it takes the pressure off of the joints – it's close to being weightless. You’re virtually pain-free during that time." 

Nealey has always found solace while on the water. While his disability hasn’t been much of a hindrance in his life, he has seen first-hand how some of his friends’ disabilities affected their freedom to be as active as they wanted. Growing up Nealey shared his ambitions to become a charter captain and run his own business. Several of his friends expressed a desire to enjoy time on a boat but their reliance on wheelchairs made boating virtually inaccessible to them. Those frustrations inspired Nealey to create Tranquil Adventures and Active Disabled Americans. Since then, Nealey has dedicated his life to creating adventures for disabled Americans, providing a wheelchair-accessible dock and vessel, and customized trips to suit each of his passengers’ needs and wishes. From fishing and sightseeing to swimming and kayaking, Nealey’s Key Largo-based company provides a relaxing and unintimidating environment for all his clients.

For Nealey, giving his guests peace of mind and comfort while on the water is paramount. He has spent several years outfitting his boat with key features that allow wheelchair users and people with mobility issues the chance to enjoy the ocean without the usual barriers of equipment. From the spacious open deck to the chair lift for getting people in and out of the water, Nealey has made boating, fishing and swimming more accessible. And if there isn’t a solution in place for his guests, Nealey finds a way. When a challenge arises, Nealey goes to work creating tools that allow his clients to enjoy their day.

Through grants from The Christopher Reeve Foundation, The Woody Foundation and Mercury Marine, as well as donations, Nealey is able to offer free trips for veterans and people with disabilities. He hopes that his work will inspire others to overcome their reservations and get out on the water.

James “Woody” Beckham

At age 22, James “Woody” Beckham suffered an injury that would forever change his life. Beckham was competing in a rugby game for Florida Atlantic University in January 2011 when a severe cervical spinal cord injury rendered him paralyzed from the chest down. In the proceeding months, during Beckham’s rehabilitation, his family realized there was a need for an organization to help improve the lives of those living with paralysis, as well as the lives of their caregivers. Thus, The Woody Foundation was formed.

The Woody Foundation, founded in July of 2011, raises awareness of and funds for paralysis and other disabilities through donations and its four annual events. The Foundation, in turn, supports various organizations, including the Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital where Woody received inpatient care for two months during his rehabilitation. The Woody Foundation also raises funds to create and giveaway free “Woody Packs” for those with limited hand function. The Woody Pack is filled with 20 devices personally selected by Woody, including an adaptive fork, an adaptive phone case, a wheelchair side bag, a retractable ID holder and other handy devices that help individuals with paralysis regain their independence. The reality is that some of these items are not covered by insurance but are necessary to help spinal cord injury sufferers maintain normalcy in their lives.

Captain Mick Nealey and Beckham became acquainted a number of years back through their mutual involvement with disability charities. Woody appreciated what Capt. Mick was doing through his charter service and nonprofit, and the two have been partnering together ever since to make water adventures accessible to wheelchair users.

Beckham uses his fearless attitude to inspire others, often bringing along friends like Josh Knight when he goes out with Capt. Mick. Knight suffered a gunshot wound during a mugging, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Josh and Woody met during a group session for spinal cord injury victims, and Woody invited Josh out for a day on the water with Capt. Mick. While he was hesitant at first, Josh reluctantly agreed to participate. It was the first time Josh had been on the water since losing the use of his legs, so he was plenty apprehensive. However, with Capt. Mick’s experience with spinal cord injuries, his concerns were put to rest. Knight now regularly goes out on the water with Capt. Mick and Woody.

“For me it’s the comradery, it’s the connection, it’s reacclimating and just doing normal things,” said Josh. “I may not be able to go to the gym and play basketball like I used to, but out here we can be together fishing or chillin’. It’s reinvigorating and inspiring because you’re actively participating in something.”

The sea has been a source of regeneration, therapy and comradery for Capt. Mick, Woody and Josh. And most importantly, it inspires them to actively reject fear and the status quo in search of refilling their glasses.


Bold Stories: Unbound
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