What does it mean to be too young? We often hear it said in today’s America that children are exposed to the real face of humanity too young and forced to grow up too fast. But is that really true? Honestly, it is not.
As the average expected lifetime of a person has increased, it seems we’ve also been trying to extend childhood into later years as well. 16 years became the driving age. 21 years the drinking age. And yet you only need to be 18 to be trained as a soldier and sent into frontline combat. That makes little sense, but it is an entirely different discussion.
It was not that long ago that life expectancy was only 40 years. That children were working before they were teenagers. That marriage at 16 was not uncommon. It is not ancient history. It was so in the last century of our American history.
Abby Sunderland, a precocious and bubbly 16-year-old from Southern California, found herself adrift in the middle of the southern Indian Ocean this week. And adrift she most definitely was with the coasts of Africa and Australia each 2,000 miles away.
Abby had already traversed more than halfway around the world in her attempt to solo circumnavigate the world. However, the Southern Indian Ocean is never one to make any journey easy, no matter the size of the boat or the number of crew onboard. What happened in Abby’s own words is: “The long and the short of it is, well, one long wave, and one short mast (short meaning two inch stub.)”
While Abby found herself floating in the ocean alone for two day on a dismasted boat and without a working engine while enduring 20- to 30-foot waves, her parents were swept into a sea of misery as well. Members of the public, the media and child ‘experts’ all have questioned if allowing a 16-year-old to sail around the world on her own was unwise, at the very least, or criminal child endangerment, in the worst case.
Truth of the matter, it was neither. Abby has been on boats since she was two-months old. She is an accomplished sailer with many years of experience and spent nearly three years preparing for this exact journey. Her brother, Zac, has completed his own solo around-the-world trip at 17-years old. There is no doubt that her and Zac had discussed for hours at a time the physical and mental difficulties of such an undertaking.
To quote Abby once again: (from her own blog at http://soloround.blogspot.com/)
“There are plenty of things people can think of to blame for my situation; my age, the time of year and many more. The truth is, I was in a storm and you don’t sail through the Indian Ocean without getting in at least one storm. It wasn’t the time of year it was just a Southern Ocean storm. Storms are part of the deal when you set out to sail around the world.”
“As for age, since when does age create gigantic waves and storms?”
For Abby this was not an ill-advised trip. The same could not be said for most any of the rest of the population thinking of such a herculean task. At 16 there is no way I could have sailed from L.A. to Catalina Island, a mere 30 miles. For that matter, even after celebrating my 39th birthday for several years now, such a short jaunt is still out of reach of my skillset.
Unlike some child athletes and actors, Abby was not forced into this by her parents. Sailing is something she loved and once she got the idea of sailing around the world in her head at 13, there was little that was going to stop her from making it happen.
We can’t place absolute labels on everything. Especially not on teenagers. They can and will surprise you. I’ve encountered teenagers that were far more capable and mature than many adults twice their age. And I am certain that you have as well.
Abby faced much adversity the past five months. If anything she is better equipped now for the real world than she was before. She is alive and well.
Family spokesman Jeff Casher said “This is the end of the dream. There’s no boat to sail.”
I do not believe he speaks for Abby. She lived her dream for six months and I don’t believe this setback will stop her one bit from trying again with a different boat.
Keep living the dream Abby!