Another doctor prescribed Inderal to counteract the Ritalin, which messed up my blood
pressure and gave me numb fingers and toes
in midsummer. The solution? Another pill to
counteract the Inderal. My mother thought
Ritalin was some kind of miracle drug. She
made everyone in the family take it.
By the time I was 11, confused and angry
with my parents over the cult, depression
hit me hard. By 13, I was in a hospital rehab
program for drug abuse, being given a fistful
of pills three times a day, including Prozac.
By 14 I was sneaking out at night, breaking into cars, stealing, and causing havoc in
surrounding neighborhoods. I cared about
nothing. My anger became hatred, and what
I hated more than anything else was myself.
When I talk to 13-year-olds today and think
of my young self, it fills me with sadness to
remember how lost I was. By the time I was
16, I’d been locked up five times.
The fourth time in juvenile detention, I was
locked up with a kid named Smith. In juvie, no
one uses first names. A few months later I got
locked up again, and who shows up the next
day? Smith. His arrival was the turning point.
I remember saying, “Hey, man, didn’t we just
do this?” That’s when it hit me. If I didn’t make
some serious changes, I’d spend my life in and
out of jail. I decided to grow up.
REDEMPTION IN THE ROCKIES
A woman who worked in juvie told me about
a small alternative-education school in the
Colorado mountains called Eagle Rock, funded by the American Honda Motor Company,
with 80 or so students and a curriculum that
couldn’t be more different than that in public
school. Everyone was on a full scholarship. At
the time they specialized in at-risk kids, and
I fit the grade. It was my best chance, but it
wasn’t going to be easy. In the three years
before, I’d hardly been to school. I enrolled at
Eagle Rock at 17 without a single credit from
public school. Eagle Rock is a fertile soil, but
only you can plant the seed.
Then the most incredible thing happened. I realized that I love to learn. If I were
asked to write a one-page paper, I’d write
three. Not for extra credit, but because I was
excited. Eagle Rock provided caring teachers
and an incredible opportunity for education
and self-reflection, but you had to take control of your education and work hard.
One day at Eagle Rock, I was studying
an atlas, looking at how different countries
are connected by ocean. I longed to see the
world and figured if I learned to sail, I could
go almost anywhere. Maybe it seems odd at
19, but I set these three goals for my life:
first, to ride a mountain bike alone through
Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia; second, to
sail alone across the Atlantic; and third, to
start a nonprofit organization. I was 20 when
I graduated from Eagle Rock and felt like
nothing could stand in my way.
Money has never come easily to me. It
took nine long months working 12-hour
days, five days a week, as a security guard
from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., to raise the money
for my first big adventure, biking through
Southeast Asia. I didn’t have much of a social
life. I just worked, saved, and learned how to
fix a mountain bike. In the end, I spent 100
days biking 1,500 miles through some of the
most remote parts of the world.
The second goal was more challenging
because a sailboat costs a heck of a lot more
than a bicycle and requires skills learned
through experience. It took another year
to save $2,000 to buy my first sailboat,
a 25-foot 1969 Coronado. I was living in
Columbus, Ohio. The boat was in Maryland.
So I packed up and drove there with my girlfriend, who knew as much about sailing as I
did. Zero. But we were in love and oblivious,
and we learned to sail one day at a time by
taking my new old boat to the Florida Keys.
In retrospect, the boat was a wreck. The
outboard was broken and the sails were
30 years old. I’d bought it from an older
man who’d named it Sea-nile, but I was
the one who’d lost my mind. The boat had
been sitting on the hard for 10 years and
was overrun with insects. We ran aground,
ripped sails, and knew little about weather
forecasting. But we made it to the Florida
Keys three months later. Sadly, my girlfriend
and I broke up, and I started sailing north,
single-handed, to escape hurricane season.
I’d made it halfway up Florida before the hur-
ricanes started. It was 2004 and there were
three in four weeks. Sea-nile made it through
Charley and Frances, but I lost her in Jeanne.
I was 23, my breakup had hit me hard, and
for ages afterward, I’d be in all these beauti-
ful places looking at couples walking hand in
hand and feel heartbroken.
Three years later, in 2008, stronger and still
determined, I found and refit a beat-up Pearson
323 while working and seriously honing my
skills. Finally, I accomplished my second goal,
sailed transatlantic, and made landfall on the
shores of Falmouth, England. I explored as
far north as the North Sea and as far south as
Gambia in Africa before sailing alone across
the Atlantic to the Caribbean. I worked on the
island of St. Thomas for the winter, then sailed
back to the Chesapeake, feeling healthy and
more motivated than ever to keep growing,
learning, and following my dreams.
TWO DOWN, ONE TO GO
Back in the Chesapeake, my prospects for
employment weren’t great. Sailing solo across
oceans isn’t a skill in much demand in the
real world. But I’d saved $2,000, and started
doing volunteer work for a nonprofit in
Annapolis. Chesapeake Regional Accessible
Boating (CRAB) is an organization that gives
sailing opportunities to people with physical
disabilities. I remembered all too well what it
was like to feel held back by circumstances
and wanted to help out. I did the work no
one else wanted to, like bottom jobs. They
had a 1958 25-foot Folkboat, and one day
while talking to the founder, Don Backe, I
suggested taking it to the Northwest Passage
Focusing on the positive stopped my mind
from drifting back to harder times that
could still feel consuming. Alone at sea,
you can’t run away from anything.
Left: Rutherford during his teenage years.