Henken and Scutt: From Accident to Olympics

Published on March 3rd, 2016

by Christopher Clarey, NY Times
2016-03-03_15-35-44If a broken spine, two fractured ribs and a lacerated kidney did not put an end to Helena Scutt’s Olympic dreaming, it should come as no surprise that she and her crewmate, Paris Henken, are not prepared to let the health risks in Rio de Janeiro dissuade them from taking part in their first Games.

They will sail in a new Olympic class, the high-performance skiff 49erFX, an event in which they won the bronze medal in last year’s Pan American Games. Looking forward to the Games, they plan to spend much of May, June and July in Rio to prepare for the Olympics, which begin Aug. 5.

But their campaign almost ended in France when, while competing in their first 49erFX world championship in September 2013, they were sailing upwind during a race and came too close to a competitor heading downwind. Scutt, suspended out on the trapeze, was struck full force by the other boat’s wing, fracturing her spine.

“The boats didn’t touch — it was just my body,” she said. “And both boats went from full speed to flipped over in a split-second.”

Scutt never lost consciousness, and amid the intense pain she said she was reassured by being able to feel herself wiggle her toes in the water. “I thought: At least I’m not paralyzed,” she said. Scutt said the major medical concern was internal bleeding from a lacerated kidney.

Henken said she had nightmares after the accident.

“I’m the one who steers the boat, and I thought I could have done something more to avoid it,” she said. “But Helena and I talked right after she got out of the hospital, and she assured me it wasn’t my fault and she didn’t hold anything against me.”

When Scutt returned to Stanford for her senior year, she had limited mobility and needed a golf cart to make it to class. But she was able to resume sailing by winter break and, despite the concerns of her family and plenty of reflection of her own, she said she was eager to resume competing in 2014 even if close encounters with other boats still cause her to flash back on occasion.

She and Henken have had to hustle and take chances to make their first Olympic team. They raised more than $100,000 on their own to supplement national program funding, and each put her studies on hold in December 2014. Henken took a leave from the College of Charleston after one semester; Scutt stopped work on her master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Stanford.

Both intend to re-enroll in the fall, and with financing secure for next season, they should be able to focus only on academics and sailing. But first is Rio…

Source: Excerpt from story written by Christopher Clarey in NY Times.

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