Lifelong Northland resident Scott “Scottie” Anderson is remembered as someone who enjoyed the outdoors, and was eager to share his love of sailing. He was a tireless advocate for Northland area residents with disabilities.
Anderson, 64, died recently at Essentia St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, after a bout with bladder cancer. A celebration of life was held in March.
He grew up in Cloquet in a blended family, enjoying sports and the outdoors.
Anderson sustained a spinal cord injury and became a T-5 paraplegic after an accident. Teenage friends were playing with a revolver when it discharged. He was 15 years old.
Paralyzed from the chest down, Anderson began using a wheelchair for mobility. In a 2014 interview, he said, “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Stuff happens, you know, life goes on. . . . Here I am in this position now. I’m not going to feel sorry for myself. Let’s find out what I can do.”
Anderson attended the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he was a member of the first Twin Ports Flyers Wheelchair basketball team. The team began in 1979 through the new Courage Center Duluth Adapted Sports, Physical Education and Recreation Department.
He enjoyed downhill sit-skiing, swimming, wheelchair softball, tennis, archery, pool and curling. His athletic abilities led to national and international competitions in multiple sports.
“Scottie was really a pioneer in adaptive recreation,” said his friend Eric Larson. “He was a guy in a wheelchair who didn’t have limits.”
Sailing was his true love. He is believed to be one of the first paraplegics to sail solo.
In the mid-1980s he led the push for the Duluth Parks and Recreation Department to create the Twin Ports Youth Sailing Program. He recruited boat builders and new sailors, and volunteered at the Park Point sailing site.
Recently he worked with the Duluth Superior Sailing Association (DSSA) through creation of the Sailing for All program. The program is not just for those with disabilities and accessibility issues, but also those who may not otherwise get involved in sailing.
In a 2019 interview with the Duluth News Tribune, Anderson recalled watching others being lifted from wheelchairs into sailboats and then setting off solo on the water.
“It’s such a sense of freedom, moving along the water with just the wind,” he said. “It’s really hard to describe what that feels like for someone in a chair.”
Anderson built his own wooden boat. When asked why he didn’t use fiberglass he said, “If God would have wanted fiberglass boats, he would have made fiberglass trees!”
He also loved to fish, and was instrumental in getting wheelchair-accessible fishing piers built in Duluth and on several lakes in Minnesota’s Arrowhead and Superior National Forest.
Anderson was not only a leader in adapted sports. He also was a strong advocate for anyone with a disability.
He began his career as a disability advocate in 1988, as director of the Duluth office of the Center for Independent Living of NE Minnesota (CILNM), now Access North. He was one of many Minnesotans who worked to get the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, receiving an invitation to the White House.
He later crossed Lake Superior to work as a work incentives benefits counselor at North Country Independent Living in northwestern Wisconsin. He helped clients manage benefits, and worked on accessibility programs including a ramp-building program that continues today. He shared a vast knowledge of Social Security programs.
He is remembered for his calm and quiet confidence, and not making assumptions about people. He worked on many local, state and national groups.
Anderson helped found several programs including the Peer-to-Peer group through Access North, People with Disabilities For Change, the Brain Injury Support Group at Polinsky Rehabilitation Center and the Ports Area Brain Injury Roundtable.
Memorials preferred to the Scott R. Anderson Sailing for All Memorial Fund at DSSA, P. O. Box 3094, Duluth, MN 55803. Checks should be noted for the Scott R. Anderson Fund. Donations can also be made through DSSA’s PayPal account at [email protected].
See Anderson in a video at https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/make-a-hero-adaptive-water-sports-scott-anderson-duluth-mn