Campus & Community

‘Unstoppable’ is all in the family

Justin (left) and Mitchell Callahan

Justin (left) and Mitchell Callahan ’26 at the Harvard Sailing Center along the Charles River.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

3 min read

Inspired by quadriplegic father, Callahans sail to championship

Over winter break, twin brothers Justin Callahan ’26 and Mitchell Callahan ’26 sailed to victory in the 2024 Snipe Junior World Championship.

“In our family we have a motto,” Justin said. “‘One plus one equals three.’ When you put two of us in a boat together, we feel unstoppable.”

Only two other American teams have won the five-day Snipe competition, which is based in the Callahans’ hometown of Miami and this year drew an extra-competitive field: 46 teams representing 19 countries. Cheering the Harvard Sailing twins through gusty conditions was their father, Paul Callahan ’80, M.B.A. ’92, a Paralympian whose example has been a lifelong inspiration for his boys.

Twins sailing in the 2024 Snipe Junior World Championship, Miami.

Callahan twins sailing in the 2024 Snipe Junior World Championship in Miami.

Credit: Lexi Pline Photographer

“From when we were 2 years old, he taught us that there is no such word as can’t,” Justin said. “He showed us that the mind is the strongest thing that we have.”

Paul has been a quadriplegic for more than 40 years, after slipping on a wet floor and breaking his neck during his junior year of College. The injury didn’t prevent him from soon taking a second, more serious shot at sailing.

“I sailed a bit as a child,” Paul recalled. “But I was really introduced to sailing by a chance meeting with an ex-Marine who was a sailing instructor in Newport. I enjoyed it so much that I started competing shortly after. It is the ultimate challenge because there are so many variables that you have to account for.”

As Paul’s dedication to the sport grew, so did his skill level. He qualified for the 2000 Sydney Summer Paralympics and the 2012 London Summer Paralympics. When not training or competing, he worked full-time in the nonprofit sector, including as the founder of Newport, R.I.-based Sail to Prevail, and helped raise his family. Today, he never misses an opportunity to see the twins compete.

“It’s a parent’s dream to see your children get along so well together, set a goal together, and accomplish a goal together,” said Paul, who will visit Cambridge this week and in May to watch Justin and Mitchell sail in the ICSA National Championships.

The situation is a poignant reversal from just a few years ago, when the boys were the spectators and their father’s love of the sport instilled the same in them.

“It was amazing watching him get out of his wheelchair onto the boat,” Mitchell said. “From when we were born, Justin and I saw that no obstacle can get in the way of your passion.”

His brother feels the same gratitude.

“I can’t be more thankful for the childhood we were given,” Justin said. “When you have a quadriplegic father, that already teaches you so much about kindness, compassion, caring for others, not thinking of yourself first.”