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Steep Learning Curve toward the Paralympic Games

Published on August 24th, 2015

Now 63 years old, American Dee Smith is known worldwide for his grand prix keelboat expertise. But since he was ruled eligible earlier this year for Paralympic competition, Dee has been applying that expertise to the singlehanded 2.4mR class.

With his first sail in the boat in February, and the 2016 Paralympic Games just over a year away, Dee is now in catch-up mode. After competing in several events in USA and Europe, Dee just returned from a promising performance at the Open 2.4mR World Championship, an event open to both able-bodied and Paralympic sailors.

Competing among the 102 boats, Dee was fourth overall at the midpoint, finishing seventh overall. Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck checked in with Dee for an update…

At the Open 2.4mR Worlds, how many would qualify for the Paralympics?
Not certain but I am guessing about one-third of the fleet. What to me is particularly notable is that 5 out of the top 7 were Paralympic sailors.

Describe your disability and how it limits you when sailing the 2.4.
I have limits in movement around my torso from my back surgeries and cancer, plus limited strength in my left leg from nerve damage. My biggest problem when sailing is turning around and seeing behind, like when I am sailing downwind and trying look back to maintain clear air.

Your accomplishments have been in big keelboats. How different has the 2.4 been for you?
The biggest adjustment really is that we are so close to the water and it is hard to read the course. But you learn new tricks. Interestingly, the 2.4 is just like a meter boat, so all those old things I learned in the past are coming back to me.

What has been the hardest adjustment?
My biggest challenge is funding. With time I am learning to sail well and I think I am getting more competitive. I can get there, but the other Euros are very good, as they would be in any boat.

What has attributed to your rise in the class?
My experience in racing a lot of other keel boats. This is another project, but all the same applies. My next big regatta will be the IFDS Worlds in Melbourne in late November. I still have to plan the rest, and my funding will impact where I can go. The biggest thing right now for me is to sail against the best in Europe, or whereever they are.

Anything about the 2.4 that has come as a surprise?
I didn’t expect to be enjoying it as much as I am. The para’s and the class are wonderful… it is fun and very competitive.

To read Dee’s debrief from the Open 2.4mR World Championship, click here.

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