Christopher Williford: No Opponent Too Strong
Published on September 10th, 2015
For elite sailors, it’s all about getting to the finish line. For the longest time for Christopher Williford, it was all about getting to the starting line. But now having beaten leukemia, Williford can once again focus on beating everyone on the race course.
The Fort Lauderdale 20-year-old begins his freshman year at Dartmouth College next week, where he will join his fraternal twin brother Duncan on the Big Green’s sailing team. It’s been a long journey for them both.
As junior sailors, the Willifords were among the best in the country. They started sailing when they were 8 and before long were winning local, regional and national regattas and competing all over the world, from Belgium to Turkey to Uruguay.
In 2010, when they were 15, Christopher won the Optimist Dinghy North American Championship and Duncan was second. They also were on the five-member U.S. squad that won the North American team title.
It was during the fall of their High School junior year as members of the St. Thomas Aquinas sailing team in 2012 that Christopher didn’t look or feel like himself.
“We used to play basketball a lot,” Duncan said. “He would have to stop and take a break.”
“Pretty much after every basket I’d have to stop,” said Christopher, who would be out of breath after walking up a flight of stairs.
When it became obvious something was wrong, Christopher’s parents, David and Tracey, brought him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The standard chemotherapy treatment for the disease has a 95 percent success rate. Christopher was in the 5 percent that needed extreme chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.
A perfect match was found in Germany and Christopher underwent the transplant in March of 2013 at Boston Children’s Hospital, which has a lot of experience treating Christopher’s type of leukemia. When Christopher and his parents were in Boston, Duncan and his sister Sarah lived with sailors Mike and Libby Toppa and their daughters.
While Duncan headed off to college in Hanover, N.H., last year, Christopher was at St. Thomas for his senior year of high school, where he closed out the year winning A Division at the High School Doublehanded Nationals, and helping his team finish second at the High School Team Race Nationals.
Christopher also started racing the 29er in March with crew Wade Waddell of Palm Beach, who used to race Optimists with the Willifords at Lauderdale Yacht Club. “We both bring a lot to the table,” Christopher said. “We grew up learning the same things. It was easy for us to start sailing together.”
They won the 29er North Americans in Oregon in July and placed fourth at the 29er US Nationals in California the following week. Last month, he and Waddell were third in the 29er World Championship in Wales thanks to a 1-2 finish in the final two races.
“It was a really fun year, especially this summer,” Christopher said. “As soon as I started sailing again, I got the passion again. It’s nice to get back into it.”