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The Beat

Art and sailing

U.S. army veteran seeks adventure and spreads awareness
Sofia Duarte ’25 meets Sergeant Rosa at Shake-a-Leg.

The charming and joyful Sergeant Luis Rosa from Puerto Rico is a U.S. Army Veteran who turned to art six years ago and recently graduated from art school. 

He explores photography and oil painting, predominantly portraiture, in order to help him work through his past experiences. One pivotal experience includes his military service in Baghdad Iraq, where 15 years ago and only two days before his 35th birthday, he lost his left arm, both legs and his hearing to a roadside bomb. 

Recently, while Sergeant Rosa was at one of his art shows at the English embassy, he received an offer to join a 2-year journey to sail around the world with Lo Spirito di Estella, an Italian catamaran built by disability advocate, Andrea Stella. 

The plan is to sail the boat around the world for two years to promote accessibility and comfort for people with disabilities. The catamaran is being sailed by a group of almost all Italian military veterans and civilians with disabilities.

One Italian naval technician, Marco, says the mission of this catamaran is to unite and heal people. “We are sharing the same values, breaking barriers, staying together, fighting together, and healing together.” When Sergeant Rosa heard about this opportunity, he resonated with the mission of the voyage and decided to join.

Lo Spirito di Estella is equipped to be accessible for people with disabilities; however, Sergeant Rosa didn’t know this when he joined. “I didn’t even know it was handicap accessible when I said yes,” he said. But he made the trip from Baltimore to Ft. Lauderdale to Bimini and embarked by himself anyway.

Sergeant Rosa said that, thankfully, navigating the ship was not especially challenging. “It was pretty easy… it’s nice and roomy, you can get around–that’s the most important part with the wheelchair–to be able to turn from one place to another, and he [the owner of the ship] has a lift that brings you down into the cabin.” 

However, Sergeant Rosa also described the challenges as the water is rough and can change at any moment. “The worst part is that if I’m pushing really hard because the boat is this way, in half a second it’s going to go that way.” 

But, overall, Sergeant Rosa seems positive about most of the challenges, including the language barrier, given the majority of the crew is Italian.

On Wednesday January 31st, the catamaran made its first U.S. stop at Shake-a-Leg in Coconut Grove. Shake-a-Leg is an organization whose mission is to make water activities “universally accessible.” Lo Spirito di Estella was welcomed by a multitude of donors, volunteers, founders, and supporters. 

When I met Sergeant Rosa, he was eager to share about his journey as an artist, its difficulties and, especially, rewards. He also made sure to highlight the good teachers he had whom he credits with his outstanding ability to learn a new skill and who helped him master the medium. 

But while Sergeant Rosa did bring his painting supplies onboard, he has yet to paint anything, as he has been too busy savoring the experience. “I brought everything I needed,” he said laughing. “But I am just having fun with the Italians.”

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