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New sailing scholarship honors longtime Duluth wheelchair, outdoor accessibility advocate

A celebration of life is set for Saturday for Scott Anderson.

Scott Anderson and sailboat
Scott Anderson at the Park Point Boat Landing in Duluth. Anderson, who died in February, was involved in Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Center activities, especially sailing, since the effort started in 1979. A new scholarship for the Duluth Superior Sailing Association is being named in his honor.
Ellen Schmidt / 2019 file / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Scott Anderson was 15 when he was shot, suffering a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down.

It was an accident, teenagers spinning the cylinder of a revolver, goofing around, when it went off. Anderson’s life was forever changed.

Some people might say that Anderson, who grew up in Cloquet, was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. But the word confined doesn’t match Scott Anderson in the least.

“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Anderson said in a 2014 interview. “Stuff happens, you know, life goes on. … Here I am in this position now. I’m not going to feel sorry for myself. Let’s find out what I can do. … The fact I was in a wheelchair didn’t seem like that big a deal to me. That’s the cards I was dealt and that’s the cards I was going to play.”

Scott Anderson with a nice walleye he caught.
Contributed / Eric Larson

Anderson became a competitive wheelchair basketball player, helped found the Twin Ports Flyers wheeled team, and excelled at wheelchair softball. But it was his love of the outdoors and outdoor sports where Anderson thrived most — especially sailing, skiing, fishing, hunting and archery.


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“He never complained. Scottie was never bitter. He just went out and did it, and he tried everything, and he was usually good at everything he tried,” said Anderson’s longtime friend Eric Larson, who heads the adaptive sports program for Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute Northland in Duluth. “And then he would help others do what he loved.”

Anderson died Feb. 21 after a battle with bladder cancer. He was 64. A celebration of his life event will be held Saturday, March 11, at the Shriner's Center in Hermantown. But Anderson’s legacy will live on in multiple ways.

“He was a huge advocate for the Americans with Disabilities Act. He even was invited to the White House when they signed the bill,” Larson said. “He was involved not just as a participant in all these outdoor activities, but also as a volunteer teacher.”

Sailing was Anderson’s first love. In a 2019 interview with the News Tribune, Anderson recalled watching others being lifted from their wheelchairs into a sailboat and then setting off solo on the water.

“It's such a sense of freedom, moving along the water with just the wind,” Anderson said. “It's really hard to describe what that feels like for someone in a chair.”

Anderson was a major force behind the Duluth Parks and Recreation Department creating the Twin Ports Youth Sailing Program in the 1980s. He went on to become active in the local sailing club, the Duluth Superior Sailing Association, elevating the program to official nonprofit status and developing the club’s Sailing for All program to expand participation, not just for those with disabilities and accessibility issues, but also those who may not have the money or connections to get involved with sailing.

Scott Anderson sailing
Scott Anderson pilots a 2.5-meter sailboat on Superior Bay in the Duluth harbor.
Contributed / Courage Kenny Northland

That’s why a new scholarship has been created in Anderson’s name: to get more people in more boats through the association.

“It’s going to remove barriers for people to get into sailing who otherwise probably wouldn’t or couldn’t, not just accessibility issues, but income or whatever,” Larson said. “Sailing in Duluth is not some hoity-toity, white-collar sport. It’s a blue-collar sport here, and Scottie was a big part of that.”


Jim Sharrow, president of the Duluth Superior Sailing Association, said Anderson was critical in developing the program.

“His involvement wasn’t just for adaptive sailing, but for anyone who wants to go out,” Sharrow said. “This association was formed as a community association, to get everyone out who wants to go, and Scottie just embodied that.”

He was a guy in a wheelchair who didn't have limits.
Eric Larson

Sunny Helbacka, who worked as a recreation specialist for the city of Duluth, said Anderson was instrumental in bringing other wheelchair archers to the Irving Community Center to teach able-bodied kids how to shoot a bow.

“Scottie was really, really good at archery. ... But that integration they had with the kids, to have them interact with the people in wheelchairs, to see what they were capable of, was really important,” Helbacka said.

Helbacka and Anderson eventually traveled together to Florida to compete in an international competition for the 2.4-meter sailboats used in the Duluth community program, noting Anderson might have been one of the first paraplegics in the U.S. to solo sail.

“When we first got Scottie in one of our homemade boats, I went to a conference where they were bragging about taking people in wheelchairs out sailing. … And I said, well, we have ours out sailing on their own,” Helbacka said.

two white men in ball caps and t-shirts hold fishing poles in a Lund fishing boat
Shawn Corbin, left, and Scott Anderson, of Duluth, wait for a bite in Anderson's boat on Fish Lake. A celebration of Anderson's life will be held Saturday, March 11, at the Shriner's Center in Hermantown from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Clint Austin / 2021 file / Duluth News Tribune

Anderson also loved to fish. He had his own boat, but he also pushed officials to build wheelchair-accessible fishing piers, both in Duluth and on several lakes in Minnesota’s Arrowhead where the Superior National Forest had campgrounds.

“We used to fish muskies together quite a bit and he would be out there, with essentially no abs, no muscles below his chest, throwing those big plugs all day long with all arm strength,” Larson noted.


Anderson never turned down a request to help with a program or event aimed at helping people who acquired new spinal cord or brain injuries, mentoring youth and adults in life skills as well sports.

Program adapts outdoor recreation to people with disabilities.

Anderson’s professional career started as a disability advocate in 1988 as director of the Duluth office of The Center for Independent Living of Northeastern Minnesota. He later moved across the harbor to become the benefits counselor at North Country Independent Living in Superior, where he assisted people with disabilities manage their benefits and find jobs. He also started a ramp-building program that continues to this day.

“Scottie was really a pioneer in adaptive recreation,” Larson said. “He was a guy in a wheelchair who didn’t have limits.”

Celebration of life

An open house celebration of life for Scott Anderson will be held at the Shriners Meeting and Event Center, 5152 Miller Trunk Highway, Hermantown, on Saturday, March 11, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Donate to scholarship

Memorials can be made to the Scott R. Anderson Sailing for All Memorial Fund at the Duluth Superior Sailing Association, P. O. Box 3094, Duluth, MN 55803. Write checks to “DSSA” with the notation “Scott R. Anderson Fund.” Donations can also be made through DSSA’s PayPal account at sailingforall@gmail.org .

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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