Our Daily Dread: The (not unexpected) Sunderland backlash

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Abby and Zac Sunderland pose with Jesse Martin, left, the Australian 16-year-old who holds the record for youngest nonstop unassisted circumnavigation, which he completed in 1999. Zac held the unofficial record for youngest assisted trip, which was unofficially broken by British teen Mike Perham a few months after Zac’s return last July. Abby is preparing for a nonstop, unassisted route but could change plans before — and after — she launches next week. Another Australian, Jessica Watson, is in the middle of a unassisted circumnavigation.
Photo by Lisa Gizara/ GizaraArts.Com

Reaction to Tuesday’s selection of Zac and Abby Sunderland as the Daily News’ Sportspersons of the Year (story linked here) wasn’t done as a way to generate degenerative responses to the Thousand Oaks teenagers’ abilities to sail around the world solo. But it’s no surprise that’s what can and has happened.

Instead of celebrating their ability to follow a dream — accomplishing it, as far as Zac goes, and planning for it, in Abby’s case — it’s easier to criticize the parents from afar, without having all the facts, reacting from an emotional place of prejudgement.

Sure, we doubt we’d allow our son or daughter to go off on such a dangerous adventure. But it’s because we know our kids aren’t equipped for such a challenge. Zac and Abby are. They’ve proven it to their parents. That’s all that matters.

What else do you need to know, other than all the pertinent information?

Still …

A “disgusted” grandmother from Northridge writes:

“I think the Sunderland parents should be punished for child abuse; encouraging truancy and then should be surgically or otherwise sterilized so they cannot have anymore children (I think the piece said they had 7 kids and she is pregnant).
I don’t know what the parents motivation is (but would bet there is money involved somewhere…..the stated more altruistic goals are, in my opinion, hogwash) but I am appalled at all of this and for the Daily News to name the children as sportspersons of the year is almost enough to make me cancel my subscription (but I won’t because I appreciate the thorough high school sports coverage).”

She’s right. She doesn’t know the parents’ motivation, but why stop from assuming with wild generalizations? Want to ask the parents themselves? Their motivation is nothing more than having their kids be happy, be safe and be good people.

And have faith.

From “Sheesh” in L.A.:
“Child endangerment, pure and simple, and the LADN is encouraging it with this “award.” Hopefully all goes well with the upcoming trip, but there are plenty of pirates out there who would really like to meet this young lady.”

Again, what you don’t know: Abby won’t to do the non-stop, unassisted trip if it endangers her life. She’s not reckless, as her mother has said. If she has to stop, make repairs, take a different route — she says on her blog that’s what she’ll do. The “record” isn’t the primary motivation.

From the tail end of today’s T.J. Simers’ column in the L.A. Times (linked here):

“The Los Angeles Daily News named Zac and Abby Sunderland, the kid sailors, Los Angeles Sportspersons of the Year. What’s next — naming the Sunderlands’ mother and father L.A.’s Parents of the Year because no one knows how to endanger the good health of their children as they do?
Abby hasn’t even started her trip, and she’s part of the duo named L.A.’s Sports-
persons of the Year? Ahead of Kobe Bryant, who led the Lakers to a championship?
“In announcing the newspaper’s selection, reporter Tom Hoffarth likened the Sunderlands’ honor to one given jointly to Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart years ago.
‘Zac and Abby Sunderland, for reminding us how to dream big no matter what the obstacles,’ wrote Hoffarth, ‘are just as worthy dual recipients. Maybe even more so.’
What a joke. By the way, Hoffarth is known best for his humor writing.”

Thanks for the shout-out all the way from Washington, D.C.
The Sunderland story inspired a column out of Simers 15 days ago (linked here), and enough reader response to fill another column space five days later (linked here). If only for that, Simers should appreciate the Sunderland’s accomplishments.

One of his readers’ reactions: “Say (Abby) doesn’t make it and there’s some tragedy at sea, is the world any worse off for losing a 16-year old girl with a zest for living AS SHE SEES FIT? I think her death would be more meaningful than most 16-ish mall rats, who you seem to admire and raise. Say she does make it, chances are she’s more interesting for the rest of her life and full of life than your over-protected mall rat will ever be.”

Another wrote: “These Sunderland kids, and parents, are not afraid of greatness and all greatness comes with risk. . . . they have taken life and death into their own hands and learned to value life, and learned that life is only valuable if you take some chances.”

That, in a dingy, is what we are communicating. And celebrating.
And, no, I don’t have any other snarky comments to add to it.

One more thing: Here’s an excerpt of an email from Zac and Abby’s mother, Marianne, sent to us after the story ran:

“So many times people get caught up in the danger or the drama or suspicious thoughts about Laurence and I. Abby’s quote (in the story, an excerpt from her blog) brought tears to my eyes as I realized that someone finally got it! It is about encouraging dreams not only in our own kids but in anyone else who has a dream.”

Abby’s blog post back in July, after seeing Zac return from his 13-month journey, for those who didn’t see it:

“I had begun to think that dreams are meant to be no more than dreams and that in reality dreams don’t come true. Then my brother left on his trip. It was amazing to see all the support that he got from around the world and to see how everyone worked together to help make his dream reality. Watching him do this really made me believe that I could too.”

Do you encourage your kids to dream, or squash them because it doesn’t fit into your plans, or what others might think of you?

Do you encourage your kids to think their dreams through, or belittle them because you don’t know enough about what the realities entail?

Do you love your kids enough to set them free and live their own lives, trusting they’ve listened to your advice, pro and con, and have the faith to follow through on a goal?

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Photo by Lisa Gizara/ GizaraArts.Com
More photos by GizaraArts at Abby Sunderland’s website: http://abbysunderland.com/photo-gallery.php

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  • http://www.bychristinemyers.com bychristinemyers

    Thanks for having the courage to defend the Sunderland family in the face of (not unexpected) backlash. I’ll ignore vicious personal attacks and vitriol, and assume that those who write are truly concerned about the kids’ safety. They would probably never allow their own children and grandchildren to play football or drive automobiles, activities with more far-reaching, life-threatening records than circumnavigation.

    Jessica Watson’s parents endured similar aspersions and calls for state intervention. If you check Jesse’s blog, you’ll find that, as she nears Cape Horn after 8,000 uneventful (even boring) miles, she has finally experienced winds gusting 44 knots (over the rear quarter) for a few hours. Anyone who has circumnavigated has known stronger winds and far more challenging conditions. The weather router, with whom she is in daily contact, was spot on in his briefing. I’m not saying there is no danger involved, but Abby Sunderland’s voyage will be on a modern sailboat, not a clipper ship of two centuries ago. These are the kind of boats that can be abandoned and still reach their destinations on autopilot.

    I believe that the backlash is based more on fear of the unknown and unfamiliar than any real assessment of risk. When our family embarked on a 30,000 mile sea journey (with far less sailing experience than the Sunderland kids), some said that we were irresponsible and crazy. It turned out to be the best parenting decision we ever made.
    Even those who always choose the safest path are sometimes surprised by unforeseen outcomes, and where would we be without risk-takers?

  • 2bad

    Tom, I assume that you will come up with some rationalization as to why you are still right about everything you said in your article above. I won’t be buying it. Anyone who thinks glory is worth your life doesn’t understand the value of life. You make it sound like you have to stifle and demoralize your children in order to protect them. That is ridiculous. There are plenty of ways to teach any child the extent their tremendous potential and to help them demonstrate it without risking their lives. Kids need help evaluating risks and developing judgment – a task at which the Sunderlands have failed to their own misery. If a kid dies in a blaze of media-manufactured glory — grist for your mill. In reality it will have been a beautiful child killed for no good reason. Shame on you for defending this idiocy.