Preston Fairlamb: First Taste Of Freedom

By Bernadette Bernon

How boating changed a young boy's life.

Preston FairlambPhoto: Jennifer Fairlamb

When Preston Fairlamb was 6 years old, the autistic boy was almost nonverbal and rarely showed expression, recalls his mother Jennifer. But that all changed when the Chicago family traveled up to Door County, Wisconsin, to visit Jennifer's parents, who, at the time, sailed a C&C 37 and had friends who offered tube rides from their powerboat.

"The power of that boat lit Preston up," Jennifer says. "That summer, we put him in the donut behind the boat. We'd never seen him so happy. He has difficulty navigating the world, but when he was on that tube, it transformed him." It also transformed Preston's grandparents. A few years later, they bought a Chris-Craft Launch 25.

Until that first summer with the runabout, Preston would only verbalize simple food requests like "nuggets" or "juice." Then suddenly, boating seemed to stimulate new language for him. He began to develop his vocabulary around the boat. Where he couldn't find words before, he emerged with new words, and the first were "Do it again," "Faster!" and "More tubing!"

Now 21, Preston's passion for being on a boat remains. He's at his happiest on the water. The family has a Sea-Doo personal watercraft that he loves; the movement awakens his senses in all good ways. He reads the waves and can tell when the big waves are coming.

"Boating changed Preston's life," says Jennifer. "Children with developmental and intellectual disabilities can have such a hard time getting through the day. They have to work so hard to deal with all the stimulation that comes at them. Finding a recreational activity that relieves some of the stress has given my son an outlet. It was his first taste of freedom. And the comfort and peace he gets from the water usually makes the rest of his day more calm."

Preston now works with a job coach part-time on a janitorial team. Every summer, when the family comes back from their boating vacation, he constantly replays the videos from the trip. Even in the winter, he watches his videos of the boat moving through the water and of himself with the wind rushing though his hair. It's given him something to share with his coworkers, peers, and aids.

"Everyone knows this is what he loves," says his mom. "He shows them pictures and videos on his iPad, and they encourage him. ‘Wow! Look at Preston!' they all say, and he beams with joy. Being on the boat opened up a new world for him."  

— Published: February/March 2017

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