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‘Courageous’ past leads to AC35 role

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Eldon Trimingham III has made a name for himself as an artist and a sportsman. No small feat considering the 60-year-old also has cerebral palsy. From a young child he was determined not to let that hold him back. His latest achievement is a series of paintings for the America's Cup. Organisers named him the official artist of the 2017 races. He spoke with Lifestyle about it.

Q: What's your role with the America's Cup?

A: I am presently working on a series of paintings for the America's Cup and am the official artist for 2017 AC. I am working closely with the AC group, designing the final layout for the prints. There will be a limited edition print for sale next year with the official AC logo on it. It's a work in progress, we are still coming up with the right concept for the prints. I will be producing a couple of paintings which will be printed and sold through Oracle. One of the images is of all six catamarans, all the AC boats, the next will be of the final two; there will be limited edition prints of both done. I'm also doing another one for charity.

How did you become the official artist?

What happened basically, is I approached them and showed them my portfolio when I knew the Cup was awarded to Bermuda. In the past I have painted other America's Cup yachts for previous AC, I also crewed for the '87 America's Cup on Courageous, although we only got as far as the first round in Perth [Australia].

I sailed with Courageous for about three years; it was certainly a real honour to sail with them. There are only two born Bermudians I know of that have done it — myself and Alex Wadson. I also have sailed in the Gold Cup here in the Nineties for Bermuda, and some of the people from years ago remembered me sailing, [Sir] Russell Coutts was one of them. I asked him a couple years ago [if I could] be the official artist for the 2017 AC. He thought it would be a great idea as a Bermudian, also it would be lots of fun to do a few paintings and print them for the America's Cup to be sold locally and internationally.

How did you end up on Courageous? What was that like?

I joined up with Courageous in ‘84 as afterguard, working closely with the skipper Dave Vietor. There's a photograph of me laying off on the deck just behind the skipper, on the stern of the boat hanging on with my fingernails. There was not much room. There's usually two places you can sit in the stern and Dave and I switched over positions; the skipper goes from one side to another during tacks. One day we were practising off St David's and I was moving just below the boom and got knocked out for a split second during a slow tack. [Fortunately], Dave grabbed me. Everyone got a little beat up with bangs and bruises on that boat. [It was] very much like being on an AC 45 catamaran. It was real fun, an exciting experience.

What was your job then?

The years I was on Courageous, I worked with the skipper closely, feeding him information as to how the crew were doing, the boat physically was doing, also how we were doing against our sail training partner, Defender — so a little of everything. Also, how the weather was too; if we needed to change sails for example, it was my call. In wintertime in Bermuda we all know the weather can turn in a few minutes at times, I also was local knowledge. Before I came on board they'd had problems, they had ripped the mainsails and run aground.

And having cerebral palsy never was a factor?

I'm one of the few people [with cerebral palsy] that are improving. I was born with [it] and today I am a lot better; I have gone 180 degrees in the other direction. My left side has always been super strong but my right side is now getting stronger all the time. The reason why I'm better is I exercise. I keep myself fit and I'm always trying to improve myself. But it is rare.

Doctors have found my brain activity is starting to grow on the left side. [At one point I had] only 30-40 per cent capacity on my left side; [most people] have 100. So I'm starting to have neurons firing for the first time, it's very cool.

And you did all that without surgery?

I had big surgeries when I was 17. Those surgeries were the first preformed in the United States, but my thinking was if there is a chance of getting better I will take it. I wore braces until then, on my right leg and arm. I remember playing tennis with my braces on sometimes. It was hilarious. The doctors said, “We've done our job with surgeries, it's up to you to do the rest”.

I was not going to let them down so I went for it, it was a green light for me. The braces were on to keep my bones straight. I was only about 5ft 5” before the surgeries, but after surgeries I grew six inches in a little over a year and was still growing the last time [I checked], about 10 years ago. My actual age is 60 but my physical age, because of what I've been through, I look at myself as being in my early 40s. I think that way so my body [responds in that way] and I'm training my brain to think that way all the time. My body rebels occasionally with pinched nerves, spasms and stuff like that but it's all something I'm aware of and I know how to work with it.

How do you keep yourself fit?

I believe strongly in the power of belief and knowing that you can be better through exercising, eating healthy and just getting out there and not stopping. I play tennis, I swim and I have an exercise routine I've had for years. After my big surgeries as a teenager I got into a training programme and stuck to it. My artwork is part of that. It's something I can focus in on and helps work my brain, even though I do just a little painting everyday. We all say, but especially people who are handicapped, that I have a disability and that's it. We get into a groove and stay there. I said there's no way I wanted to stay in the past.

My aim was always to get better, move forward. So just believing in that, I went out and challenged myself. One of those experiences was with the America's Cup, I was the first person in the world to sail with a handicap. I hope that maybe I can encourage others with disabilities to get out there and try something completely different.

On the crest of a wave: Eldon Trimingham with The America, which he painted in 1986 based on the winning boat of the first America's Cup in 1851 (Photograph by Sideya Dill)
Talented artist: Eldon Trimingham, the official artist of the 2017 America's Cup, shows off some of his work (Photograph by Sideya Dill)

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Published August 10, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated August 09, 2016 at 7:55 pm)

‘Courageous’ past leads to AC35 role

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