Karen Newman & WCAX

Karen Newman & WCAX

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Hundreds of thousands of people are diagnosed with cancer every year across the country. Which is why a local cancer survivor decided to launch a program allowing those battling the disease to set sail and temporarily leave their worries behind.

Healing Winds started in 2014 as a kind of therapy for cancer patients. People climb aboard a sailboat to create memories with loved ones. They set off from the Burlington Waterfront three times a day, six days a week.

Being out on the waters of Lake Champlain is a chance for cancer patients like Karen Newman to leave their worries on land.

“To leave cancer and all the treatments behind for a moment changes your life,” Newman said.

This isn’t Newman’s first time with Healing Winds, and it’s not her first round of cancer. We first introduced you to her back in 2016 when she was in remission from metastatic stage 4 breast cancer. They found tumors in her lumbar spine and in her pelvis.

“You can only imagine how devastating that news was,” Newman said.

For the second time, her cancer is back in the same spot and doctors tell her it’s terminal. Newman says to be on the boat is about being in the moment and celebrating life with her family and loved ones.

That’s all part of the mission of Healing Winds Vermont, and something Newman’s oncologist, Dr. Kim Dittus, supports.

“This gives patients the opportunity to take back some control in a situation where they don’t have a lot of control,” Dittus said.

Grabbing the helm allows cancer patients to steer off into Lake Champlain, leaving them with just the open water.

To take part, patients are nominated to Healing Winds and they don’t even have to live in Vermont. The boat ride is free and allows for patients to bring up to 10 family members and friends. The only reason the organization would deny a person is if they are currently in remission or don’t have cancer.

“It really gives you an opportunity to cast off the lines and be present on this vessel. And you really leave everything ashore,” said Suzanne Johnson, Healing Winds founder and executive director.

The ride is a memory that Newman’s family says they will remember long after she’s gone.

“It really plants seeds of hope, and that’s so important, and the legacy of love lives on,” Newman said.

“The smiles on everybody’s faces– it’s something that I will always remember,” said Steven Stetson, Newman’s brother,

Right now, Healing Winds is solely based here in Burlington, but in two weeks they will be adding another location in Salem, Massachusetts. They are also looking to expand to 13 other cities around the county.



Healing Winds Vermont on CCTV

In this episode you’ll learn a little backstory on Suzanne and her commitment to the organization and what makes this non-profit unique.  Suzanne speaks to #HealingWinds‘ plans on expansion, hear a nominee’s experience and learn how you can either #donate or #volunteer.

Healing Winds was recorded on 2017-12-20.

*WATCH ON TV : * You can watch this program on Channel 17/ Town Meeting Television, on Comcast Cable and Burlington Telecom at the following times:

1 Wednesday December 20, 5:25 PM
2 Thursday December 21, 7:00 PM
3 Tuesday December 26, 1:00 PM
4 Tuesday January  2, 1:00 PM
5 Tuesday January  9, 1:00 PM

*WATCH ONLINE : * You may watch the program on-line by clicking here.

Donation of New Vessel

Donation of New Vessel

Donation of New Vessel Gypsy Wind

This May Healing Winds received an incredibly generous donation of a 39 foot O’Day vessel appropriately named Gypsy Wind. On May 20th, Founder, Suzanne Johnson and a group of dedicated Healing Winds crew members journeyed to Pilot’s Point, in Westbrook, CT, to deliver Gypsy Wind to her new home on Lake Champlain. The donation of this vessel will allow us to expand our mission and grow our capacity to make a difference in in the lives of those being challenged by cancer – one sail at a time!

Follow Gypsy Wind’s journey to Lake Champlain here:

Leaving Pilot’s Point!

Maiden Voyage from New Home at Burlington Community Boathouse

Gypsy Wind’s First Guest Sail!


Healing Winds Vermont Featured in Cruising World Magazine

Healing Winds Vermont Featured in Cruising World Magazine

HWVT & Cruising World magazine





We are honored to be featured in the December 2016 issue of Cruising World magazine.


Sitting quietly at the dock, the white O’Day 28.5 Jubilee, built more than three decades ago, doesn’t look like much of a game-changer. But that’s exactly what it’s been for more than 300 people who have been dealing with cancer — either in treatment or finished with it because there’s nothing else to be done.

One of their more memorable passengers was Helen, who along with her sister Kathy and several other family members enjoyed a late-August sail aboard Jubilee. Two months later, Kathy called Johnson to say that Helen had died that morning. “She said, ‘I want you to know that the entire family is here in our living room, and they’re all talking about what an amazing sail that was with you,'” Johnson says. “‘You provided something no one else was able to — memories that will be with us forever.'” Healing Winds takes passengers with all types of cancer and of all ages. “They show up with whomever they want to bring in tow,” says Findholt. “We help them down to the boat, make sure they’re comfortable, and then we’re off for a three-hour sail. By and large, most are not sailors, and some have never been on a sailboat before.” The boat is sailed by at least one licensed captain and a volunteer from the organization.

For the past two summers, Vermonters Suzanne Johnson and Glen Findholt have spearheaded an organization called Healing Winds to take those patients, along with their family and friends, sailing on the scenic waters of Lake Champlain aboard Jubilee, providing them with a brief but valuable respite from their everyday challenges.

Says Johnson: “It’s really the one thing I know, from being a cancer patient, that families can do together, outside. When you’re going through chemo, even a simple thing like walking to the mailbox is a trek, so this is unique. The patients can just sit in the cockpit if they wish, or they can do whatever they want on the boat. But they’re on the water, and that’s healing.”

It’s a dramatic change for patients because they’re out there with no distractions and no set destination. “You go where the wind takes you,” says Johnson, “which is sort of what we all do in life.”

Launched in 2014, Healing Winds is a nonprofit with a board of eight and more than 100 volunteers, many of whom are cancer survivors or close to someone who has dealt with cancer. Program participation has sky­rocketed in just two years. In the first season, they took out 115 patients and caregivers. In 2015, that number swelled to 187, and the 2016 season had nearly 300 guests.

See the article in Cruising World Magazine:

Sailing Legend Jobson Endorses HealingWindsVermont

Sailing Legend Jobson Endorses HealingWindsVermont

Sailing Legend Jobson Endorses Healing Winds Vermont

“I know from firsthand experience that going through cancer treatments can be tough, both mentally and physically. This can be just as tough on families as it is for patients. Sailing offers an environmentally clean respite from the rigors of chemotherapy. Once on the water everyone leaves their problems behind. People talk about great things when sailing, most importantly the future. A horizon at sea is something you are always looking at. When I was going through my treatments for lymphoma a friend took me for a sail. On the way in he said, “I just wanted to remind you why the fight is so important.” He knew that I would want to recover to get back out on the water. Healing Winds Vermont offers patients and their families a chance to get out on the water. President John F. Kennedy once remarked that we have the same percentage of salt water in our bodies that is found in the sea. We all came from the sea. Sailing on gives all of us the spirit to fight on.”

Winning America’s Cup sailor, television commentator and Vice President of the International Sailing Federation. Gary has authored 19 sailing books and is Editor at Large of Sailing World and Cruising World magazines. He is President of the National Sailing Hall of Fame.