Rick Doerr: The Long Road to Rio Games

Published on September 5th, 2016

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Rick Doerr

Competition drives Rick Doerr, who was active in anything he could get his hands on growing up. “Football, ice hockey, tennis, golf,” said Doerr. “I played football, hockey and lacrosse in college. In grad school in Colorado, I was a ski instructor. If It was a sport, I wanted to master it.”

But a 1992 motor vehicle accident that left him a paraplegic forced Doerr’s hand to find a new athletic love. He experienced sailing growing up in New Jersey, but felt skeptical at the time he could return the sport. Now, nearly 25 years after the accident, Doerr will be the skipper for the U.S. team in the triplehanded Sonar event at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games.

“I thought there’s just no way I can get on a sailboat,” he said. “I remember being in the rehab hospital, two months after the accident. The physical therapist and recreational therapist were good at keeping me motivated. I saw a flyer in the lobby in the lobby about sailing, and the physical therapist taunted me. That was all I needed, somebody to dare me to do something.”

Doerr was in in Chicago at the time, in late summer, and the city’s short sailing season ended a few weeks later. The following spring, Doerr found his new athletic passion. “I was chomping at the bit to get back to racing,” Doerr said.

He moved to Miami in 1996, and learned sailing would be introduced for the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta as a demonstration sport. His team fell short, finishing third at the U.S. trials, but he learned how competitive the sport is. He developed campaigns to compete at the Games in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004, and qualified for the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. Doerr’s crew fell just short of earning the U.S. bid for the 2012 Paralympics in London.

“After Beijing, the team had to go our own way and go back to their regular jobs,’’ Doerr said. “We had to recruit some new guys in 2012 and it was like starting at square one. We just missed making it through at the trials. There are so many subtle things. After eight years now with this crew, we’ve come to understand each other and do it well enough to eliminate the chance of bad things happening.”

Doerr competes with Brad Kendell and Hugh Freund, and after the team won the 2016 Para World Sailing Championship, they will be among the favorites in Rio.

“The recent Olympics were the most challenging I’ve ever seen,’’ he said. “You can go from first to last in an instant. I don’t know what to expect, but I know we’ve been sailing well.”

This figures to be the last attempt at the Paralympics for Doerr, 55, as the sport will be dropped from competition. But it just might provide him the incentive to find another sport and pursue his passion for competition.

“In any sport, you’re critically reviewing your performance,’’ Doerr said. “Even if you win, you think about something you could have done better. Every time you say is that the best I could’ve done, it takes away from the joy, but it’s also going to make you better.”


The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will take place on September 7-18 with the sailing scheduled to be raced on September 12-17 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Competition will be held in three events: 2.4 Norlin OD (singlehanded), SKUD18 (doublehanded), and Sonar (triplehanded).

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Source: South Passaic Daily Voice

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