A Sailing Journey of Mutual Inspiration
Published on January 23rd, 2019
Danielle Brennan, named 1994 Rolex US Yachtswoman of the Year, and John Myrdal had their sights on the Olympic Games. After they fell short of qualifying in 1996, an unexpected training partner became an integral part of their plan for 2000.
John reflects back on this journey which became laced with themes of perseverance and triumph through struggle and failure for the up and coming youth in our sport. As such, he dedicates this story to all youth sailors with dreams of high performance.
Prior to getting married in July of 1998, it was in early spring when Danielle and I had begun our training preparations for our second Olympic campaign in the Europe Dinghy and Laser for our respective bids to make the US Sailing Team for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
Our plan included having three “home” bases strategically placed across the country to maximize and leverage resources and access to regattas and training sites with one in New York (where Danielle was from), San Francisco (where our Trials would be in 2000), and of course, Hawaii, where the conditions and training were unparalleled.
As the logistics came together in Hawaii, we each set up our training schedule that included a five day a week program that included 3 to 5 hours on the water in addition to 2 to 3 hour gym sessions, leaving two days of recovery and to handle campaign details to include fundraising efforts, training partner coordination and scheduling as well as travel and regatta planning logistics.
Our Europe and Laser on-the-water training sessions would be held in a variety of locations around Oahu depending on the conditions provided on the day, however, our sailing base of operations were primarily out of Kaneohe Yacht Club with a specific focus in the Sampan channel.
The channel is essentially a shallow sandbar that bridges the protected part of Kaneohe Bay to the mighty Pacific Ocean. The venue was chosen as it best simulated the type of conditions that we were most likely to encounter in San Francisco during our Trials in that it provided for a short steep chop due to the relatively shallow sea floor and it also regularly provided consistent hiking breeze in the 15 knot and above range.
The configuration of the channel also provided a wide-open sailing area that allowed for course lengths over a mile long, which would benefit endurance training in hiking breeze in addition to refining downwind surfing techniques.
To replicate and maintain a high level of training intensity while home, we invited top notch Europe and Laser sailing talent of many nationalities from around the world that had also become good friends from our previous campaigns to come to Hawaii, of which many returned multiple times.
Right about this time, I was approached by Guy Fleming, the junior program director at Waikiki Yacht Club, about a young youth sailor named Andrew Lewis that had been winning all the youth events in Hawaii.
According to Guy, this kid had performance goals of doing well in national youth sailing regattas and so Guy asked if I could sit down with him for chat. I also remember not thinking about it too much at the time since Danielle and I talked to a lot of kids about their goals and ambitions in sailing across the country quite often.
And so after a training session one day, I met the 15 year old at the KYC and we sat and chatted about his sailing and I listened to the him describe his ambitions to perform on the youth national Laser scene and as he spoke, I distinctly remember thinking about how much energy and enthusiasm he had when he discussed competing.
He was a fit young man and clearly quite strong, especially for someone who was 15 and still growing. He then asked if it would be possible to come out and train with our Laser group.
Before answering, I remember thinking to myself how Danielle and I had always had an open-door policy when it came to including youth sailors in our training sessions in the past. They would always come out with great enthusiasm, but once they realized that the sessions were no pleasure cruise or dolphin excursion, one by one their participation would dwindle as the realization set it that these training sessions were far more intense than what they had expected, let alone experienced.
For context, Danielle and I were 11 years older than this kid, and at that time we were among the top sailors in the country in our respective Olympic classes, having won multiple national titles each in addition to being veteran campaigners, so the disparity in ability levels was going to be very apparent.
However, I knew that I would have killed to have had the opportunity to train with the likes of sailors like Sam Kerner when and I was younger and he was in his prime. Sam was a Laser sailing legend from Hawaii, who was a great source of inspiration for me, but our respective early development paths never crossed. To this day, Sam and I often speculate as to what could have been had we been on similar development tracks.
With this in mind, I looked at Andrew, smiled and told him that he was welcome to come out and train with us, however, he needed to be aware that the training pace and tempo out on the water would be unlike anything else he had experienced to date and that he needed to understand that this was not going to be a clinic where the focus of attention would be specifically on him.
I explained to him that as he was training to be the top youth sailor in the country, our goal (and that of our talented foreign training group) was to represent our respective countries in the Olympics. To do this, Danielle and I were focused on winning one of the most pressure packed events that existed in competitive sailing at the time – the US Olympic Trials.
The culmination of our years of competing and training would boil down to one 8-day event whereby only the winner (not top five or even top two like many other Olympic sports) would earn the honor of representing the US at the Olympics.
There would be a variety of drills that our group would do in the training sessions, and the work we did in the channel would primarily be big breeze boat speed and endurance sessions, but rest assured, all of it would be fast paced and very intense. He should also expect many times and drills that he would be lagging behind and that it would be frustrating for him, especially since he was accustomed to performing at the top of the local fleet in Hawaii.
As such, I told him that there was no expectation or pressure for him to show up and train and that we would be training irrespective of his attendance and that the opportunity to learn was completely up to him.
We also discussed how our daily sailing schedule had us on the water at about 1pm in the afternoons, which was a good two hours before Andrew finished school during the week, which meant that he had to get himself from school, which was in town, to KYC, rig up and meet up with us on the water.
Afterwards, he would have to unwind that process, get himself home, do his homework, get ready for school and do it all over again the next day. Basically, it called for a great amount of discipline that a lot of adults would find difficult, let alone a 15-year-old.
The Sailing Drill from Hell:
The first week that Andrew came out to train with the Laser group, I remember well in that it was windier than average out in the channel and the conditions were prime in the 20 to 25 knot range When he joined up with our group, we were doing 1-mile wind sprints upwind, which consisted of lining up with about one boat length between each boat and the object was to hike and sail the boat as fast as possible to advance forward on the other boats.
Each boat would take turns in either the leeward, middle or windward positions and if one boat would clearly advance ahead of the other(s) by no more than a two-boat length margin, that lead boat would circle back and duck below the last boat, tack back on the same tack as the group and work to grind their way back ahead again.
This was an effective drill as it kept the action very tight and all boats pushing at their maximum effort. The effect of having boats in close proximity automatically raises the blood pressure and would push all of us to gain an advantage quickly, which was essential in close quarter battles in big competitive fleets.
Aside from being a physically exhaustive drill, pounding upwind in 20 plus knots with a short steep chop to contend with, the drill wouldn’t end until we reached about the 1-mile mark (signified by a very large marker at the top of the channel).
The faster boat(s) would ultimately sail more distance upwind as they would circle back, placing themselves in a disadvantaged position and attempt to grind through the others. In this manner, the leaders were never able to spring out ahead and back off the throttle, or settle into a loose covering position, so to speak, and there was always the psychological incentive to crush your opponent as we were all keeping score.
We would do this upwind drill an average of 4 to 6 times per windy session for the upwind portion. Of course, the reciprocal of this was that there was also 4 to 6 miles of downwind sailing in waves. Since the largest gains in planing dinghies were to be had with the development of superlative downwind technique, there was also great emphasis on this point of sail and the refinement of these skills as well.
Paying the Dues:
To his credit, Andrew joined us every day that first week when we were about two hours into our sessions, making the three mile reach out to the channel from KYC on his own and then proceeding to line up with us.
When he did, my training partners and I would predictably pull ahead and circle back behind him and proceed to work our way through him until our boats were clear ahead of him, again and again and again …rinse and repeat and so on for each drill that we did.
We would often place ourselves behind him, in his bad air and work through his lee to then lift up to his line and then tack and clear him and start the process all over again. Or, we would place ourselves above and behind, roll him, gybe out and duck him and repeat the cycle.
This process would repeat for the 1-mile downwind legs as well, where we would typically start Andrew ahead and systematically overtake him, spin 720s to restart behind him and work to punch through him again.
Occasionally, for the sake of comparing differences in technique, and to see who had the downwind mojo dialed in well that day, we would sometimes do flat out 1-mile off-the-wind races to see how far ahead anyone of us could beat the others, to then evaluate what was working well during that day of training.
And so, it was that first week. Andrew came out every day and I remember at the end of the last day of that week’s training, as an exhausted Andrew packed up and went home, Danielle asked me if I thought we’d see him again the following week.
I told her that there was no question that he had his eyes opened and he took a lot of abuse on the water to be certain, but no matter how far back he was, he kept fighting. Only time would tell if the frustration would get the better of him.
Sure enough, during the first day of the next week’s training, a lone Laser sail made its way out to our group along the three-mile reach from KYC to the channel. This scene became common as the days rolled into weeks and then into months, as Andrew’s consistency in joining in our training was becoming a regular occurrence.
In time, and as Andrew’s sail was spotted daily on his trek out to our group, someone would invariably shout out “Here comes, Junior!” as the group began to adopt him as one of our own and we grew to respect the perseverance of the kid. As one of our own, he was fully indoctrinated into the banter and playful smack talk that goes with playing with the big boys.
“Glad to see you came back for another rooting, mate”, one of our Kiwi training partners would say with a hearty laugh to Andrew, who would subsequently laugh himself and shake his head! Little did we know at the time that the nickname “Junior” would stick with him, far beyond the reaches of Kaneohe’s Sampan channel.
It was in these early days that Danielle and I began conducting our morning gym sessions at Andrew’s parent’s fitness equipment store, Total Fitness USA. Richard and Roseanne Lewis graciously opened up their store and time prior to normal business hours and served as our fitness coaches and counselors for our off the water strength training needs.
Richard and the boys, including Rick Wood and Greg Edwards, would hand me my okole in the gym daily and would load us up with protein to replenish the weight lost during big events. Unbelievably supportive and amazing people.
So, our Hawaii training segment had established a consistent routine of morning gym sessions with the Lewis’s and afternoon on the water training, in which Andrew had become a regular fixture.
Inevitably, Danielle and I would travel to compete in a series of national and world level events to keep our racing skills honed and sharp, but we would always make our way back to our Hawaii base for the core of our training. In our absence, Andrew would clean up in the local circuit and catch up with us for another round of intensive training when we were back in town.
And then, one fateful training day in the channel, it happened. After months of training with us, Andrew won his first legitimate on-the-water drill against the Laser group. The drill was an extended downwind race in 18 knots of breeze and medium sized chop with ground swell, with no stopping until every boat arrived at the very bottom of the run.
Of the hundreds of downwind runs that we did over the two-year period, I remember this one vividly. We started evenly, and everyone did their best to pick the best balance between planing vs surfing, transitioning from broad reaching angles to aggressive by the lee angles, all the while trying to maintain the best VMG towards our bottom mark. From top to bottom, Andrew laced it together beautifully and didn’t look back.
As was customary of the lead boat in this drill, Andrew rounded the mark, trimmed into a close-hauled course and then stopped and luffed to wait for the others. As I approached him after rounding the mark behind him, I admittedly had this strange and conflicting blend of emotions that consisted of disbelief, frustration, and pride.
As I got closer to him, he was sipping his water bottle and trying very hard to contain his excitement, to which he failed miserably when he stood up in his boat, threw his hands up in the air in triumph, and yelled to me, “So that’s what beating you feels like!!!!….I think I’ll sail in now!!!” to which I yelled back at him, “You’re going nowhere, Junior! We’re going back up this course and doing this one again!!!,…. and by the way….. nice job!”
After months of getting lapped, rolled, covered and shot out the back, the kid struck back, and his perseverance was starting to pay off. I remember telling Danielle after this training session that the national youth sailing scene was going to be in for a shock when this young man was unleashed in competition. “He’s going to crush,” Danielle said. I concurred, the kid was getting faster.
As the training sessions continued, we added an additional element of on-the-water filming of the sessions, compliments of the Cervantes family. Jose Cervantes graciously “volunteered” his son Mike to come out on his powerboat and film our sessions, which proved to be quite useful.
Mike was a good sport and the additional training tool meant that we would also conduct debriefing sessions post practice, usually at our little rented cottage in Kailua at the time.
Although he usually had to jet home after training to finish homework and gear up for school the next day, Andrew would occasionally join us at our house to review the training tapes. It wasn’t unusual for him to fall asleep on our couch post dinner and during the film review, to which we had to usher him home…. after all, he had yet to still graduate high school.
Danielle and I were competing in Europe and the east coast of the United States in the late spring through mid-summer of 1999 when Andrew won the Cressy High School Singlehanded Nationals and the US Youth Championships. By all accounts and from the stories we heard from friends and coaches that witnessed it, the kid displayed amazing speed amongst his youth counterparts.
To our training groups back in Hawaii, this did not come as a surprise, and we were incredibly proud. To ensure that his feet remained on the ground and that his head maintained its original shape, however, we told him that we were proud that he took his youth competitors to school, but then asked him if he was ready to go back to school with the big boys and girls. Of course, he was, and the training continued.
The third jewel in the US youth “triple crown” of Laser sailing that year was the Smythe Championships that were to be hosted by none other than the Kaneohe Yacht Club in late August. All the best US youth sailors would descend upon Kaneohe Bay and, unlike the Cressy and Youth Champs, Danielle and I would be in Hawaii during this timeframe.
Upon learning that we would be in town, the race organizers approached me about serving as the Laser coach for all the competitors during the event. The concept was that by having one coach that was accessible to all competitors, it then provided a level of parity, especially since most kids didn’t have the resources to hire private coaches and fly them out to Hawaii.
At first, I felt that the time commitment might detract from our training schedule and the hours that we needed to put on the water, however, an adjustment to the training schedule allowed us to get in the necessary time in the gym and the water to get our work done.
So I would serve as regatta coach for the Smythe, and while Junior was stoked that I would be able to coach him, he wasn’t so keen on his competitors having access to me for advice as well, since only the event coach could impart counsel to any of the competitors during the event.
I remember smiling and telling him, “My friend, your homework is done, and there isn’t a thing that I can tell any of your competitors at this stage in the game that is going to change the fact that you are going to beat them and that they are all fighting for second place.
“They know it and deep down, you know it too. How much faster, smarter, and stronger is the training group that you sail with on almost a daily basis for over a year than the top youth sailors you’ve encountered already?”
“Our training group is a lot tougher,” he replied. I then told him, “You still must do the work to ensure that your gear is in perfect order, and that you keep your cool, etc., but you’ve already won this regatta, the sailing is just a formality at this point. In addition to this, they are sailing in your house (backyard) and nobody knows this place better than you do … well … except for me, of course,” to which we both laughed. “You’ve got this, bro. Go seal the deal,” I said to him.
As expected, Junior won the Smythe in convincing fashion and in doing so, set a record that I believe still stands to this day in winning all three major US youth championship regattas within the same year. He had done it. He was the undisputed Laser youth champion of the United States.
The very next day after the Smythe regatta, our training groups headed back out to the channel without Junior as we fully expected him to take time to recover from his historic victory and evaluate his next step since he exceeded his original goals. However, once again, that lone Laser sail appeared on the horizon making its way out to the channel.
As he approached us, we asked him what he was doing back out on the water. He replied that he couldn’t have achieved the level of success that he had without us and that it was now our turn (Danielle and I) to go get it done at the US Trials and that he was committed to helping anyway he could. Pure class, and with that Hallmark moment, the training resumed.
With eight months to go before the Trials, the training reached a feverish pace with some of the sessions stretching into the early evening hours when we finally had to yield to the cover of darkness as our fitness endurance was fast approaching bulletproof status.
In some ways, the preparations for the Olympic Trials is not unlike planning for any other major event in life in that you outline the event dates on the calendar, and work backwards in terms of the time between the event and the present, identifying the tasks, budgets, logistics, and fundraising that need to be done to prepare, time block the areas that need the most focus and set about a plan to get yourself there.
If this isn’t an oversimplification of the reality, I don’t know what is.
Failure is the Foundation for Future Success:
In truth, preparations for the 2000 Trials began with losing our first Olympic Trials in 1996. As such, the plan for the 2000 Trials would be based on some invaluable lessons we learned from our short comings of the 1996 campaign:
US Team rankings and National Titles mean nothing at the Trials:
Going into the 1996 Trials, I was ranked #1 on the US National team and had just won two back to back national Laser titles in the Laser Midwinters East and the Gulf Coast Champs, both stacked with the top US talent, so naturally I went into the Trials event with high confidence. However, if you don’t bring your A-game to a winner-take-all event, it doesn’t matter how stacked the resume is.
I ended the event finishing 4th out of 52 boats behind Nick Adamson (who became the first US Laser Olympian) Andy Lovell, and Mark Mendelblatt and I finished just ahead of Kevin Hall, Steve Bourdow (Olympic silver medalist in Flying Dutchman in 92’) followed by a slew of other Laser champions.
I was in good company to be certain, but there is only one place that matters if the goal is to go to the Olympics. This time around, there would be less emphasis on rankings and national titles and more on developing better fitness and boat speed as well as a smarter approach to peaking at the desired time.
Train with the Best of the Best:
The plan for the final stretch of training also entailed scaling back our domestic regatta schedule, which included foregoing the Miami World Cup, the East and West Coast Midwinters. Instead, we would do one last block of regatta training down in New Zealand to include the New Zealand Nationals, Sail Auckland Olympic Classes Regatta and a couple of other events.
Because the Games were going to be held in Sydney, there was a great deal of international talent commuting back and forth from Sydney to Auckland. Training and competing alongside Ben Ainslie, Michael Blackburn, Paul Goodison, Nik Burfoot, Rod Dawson, and Peter Fox would provide a world level assessment in a regatta setting as to how effective my speed and endurance training had been with the many hours in the channel back home.
Meanwhile, Danielle had top notch Europe dinghy talent including the 1996 Olympic Champion, and Canadian Rachel Dennis (Guthrie) to pace with on a regular basis.
Become a local at the Trials site:
As any competitive Laser sailor can attest to, there aren’t many venues that demand a superior level of fitness and endurance like San Francisco Bay. The average North American or World championship regatta averages between 4 to 6 days of straight competition. By comparison, the Trials had eight competition days…that’s’ eight days with a better than average chance of 15 to 25 knts of cold, hard racing.
This was why there was such a great emphasis on developing speed and fitness endurance in big breeze conditions back in Hawaii. In addition, the currents and tides in San Francisco were anything but trivial, so getting a handle on all the ins and outs of the ebb and flow, tendencies and idiosyncrasies was imperative.
This included hiring a trusted coach who in addition to being an excellent sailor, also knew the bay’s currents well. We found one in Patrick Andreasen, who was then the longtime coach at the St Francis Yacht Club and mutual friend of my old college sailing teammate Morgan Larson.
We would move our base of training up to San Francisco a good 8 weeks before the Trials with hard training for the first five weeks with our speedy Kiwi buddies, with a plan to taper to rest and recover the final three weeks leading up to the event.
Enjoy the ride:
Danielle and I were under no illusion that the competition would be fierce, and the pressure brought to bear on this marathon event was designed to be long and intense. In our ’96 campaigns, we had experienced burnout, illness, and had done over 50 major events in many countries between the two of us.
This go around, we were going to do less events, focus on quality over quantity in our training and make a point to enjoy the journey. Would any of this work? Win or lose, at least Danielle and I had selected a path and plan of our choosing and we were doing it together.
The final entries to the US Laser Trials had been restricted to the top 32 competitors in the country, as determined through three separate qualifying events in late 1999 and early 2000. Sixteen races were scheduled with two races per day over the eight racing days with a lay day in between.
Included within the final 32 competitors were none other than Junior, in addition to a young Clay Johnson and Andrew Campbell, all three of which were the next generation of American Laser greats. This event would prove to be an excellent growth opportunity for all of them in experiencing their first Trials event.
The expected heavy hitters in this event would be champions with names like Brett Davis, John Torgerson, Peter Hurley, Andy Lovell (runner up at the last Trials), Steve Bourdow, Charles Meade, Bill Hardesty and the pre- regatta favorite, Mark Mendelblatt.
Regatta approach and plan:
As the start of the event approached, we went into “regatta lockdown” mode whereby all regatta routines were set and all outside distractions were quarantined, including our parents. The logic behind this was that it’s only natural for friends and family to want to approach and discuss how our particular competition day went out of loving interest / concern, however, the last thing we wanted to do was relive any particular race, whether it was good or bad, as there was no point investing additional energy in a race that was over.
It was more important to move forward and focus on replenishing the energy, getting warm and dry and prep for the next day’s battles. As such, our tight knit Trials group only consisted of Danielle, our coach Patrick and Junior, who had become not only a trusted and unexpected training partner, but more like a little brother to Danielle and me over the last two years. He was in the “circle of trust!” Our foreign training partners had flown home to continue their preparations for their respective Trials selections.
At the end of each days racing, we would group together with Coach Pat and keep the days recap to no more than 5 minutes between us, review our expected weather/ tide predictions for the next day and then quickly leave the regatta site to take our minds completely off sailing. We also made a point of not wanting to know the points or our overall positions at the end of each day as Coach Pat would keep that to himself.
The idea was that knowing the points early on in the event would only be a distraction and every ounce of energy at this level needed to be one hundred percent focused on each aspect of each race. We would let the points take care of themselves. The only time Coach Pat would broach the points discussion with us was if the points were tight going into the last day of competition, and if specific attention to any one competitor became necessary.
The Olympic Trials was every bit as intense and grueling as expected. San Francisco delivered on the promise of cold and blustery conditions. Almost from the outset of the event, I was engaged in a titanic battle with my longtime friend and champion competitor Mark Mendleblatt for the top spot.
Like two prize fighters, we were trading blows race after race, day after day. For most of the event, I seemed to have an extra gear of boat speed upwind, especially in anything above 15 knots of breeze, (thanks to the countless number of hours of grinding in the channel back home) , whereas Mark held a slight advantage downwind.
Down to the Wire:
Going into the final day of competition, Coach Pat tells me its time for ‘the talk’. “Three points,” he says. “You’re ahead of Mark by three points.”
My first reaction was to laugh, as after seven days of tooth and nail fighting and 14 races completed, it comes down to three points of separation with two races left for all the marbles. As three points is essentially nothing in a fleet of 32 of the best sailors in the country with two races left to sail, my response to Pat was, “Well, it all starts and finishes today!”
In reality, it was 6 years of training that came down to that final day, and I was going to need every bit of that experience for this high stakes all-or-nothing finale, especially against a champion like Mark.
Mark and I were about 15 points clear of the next guy in third, but the way it stood, I had slightly better discard races than Mark, meaning that he could not afford to match race me and risk getting another bad score. His play was to go for the win in both races. Knowing this, my strategy was the same.
The forecast for the final day was 15 to 25 knts of breeze, however, the direction was out of the southeast, or in this case, coming out of the Oakland Bay Bridge direction into the Berkeley Circle (our race venue) instead of the usual Golden Gate Bridge westerly. The tide forecast was negligible, so it was going to be a straight up horserace.
The start of the first race of the final day got off with about 18 knots as I started in the middle of the line. Mark was down closer to the pin and we began a long starboard grind to the left-hand side of the course. I could see Mark under my boom and as he tacked onto the port tack lay line, I tacked a boat length in front of him to lead at the first mark.
As we were sailing outer trapezoid courses on the final day, this meant that our first offwind leg would be a beam reach. Both Mark and I took off planing except that halfway down the reach, I realized that I was sailing for the wrong reach mark!. Mark seized the advantage of my oversight and slipped just ahead of me at reach mark rounding.
As we started the first running leg of race, I took an inside line to Mark’s course and settled into a downwind surfing mode. The breeze had picked up to the low 20s at this point and it was no holds barred between the two of us pumping aggressively on each wave while working by the lee and reaching angles to milk every ounce of speed above what the wind was already providing.
It was at this point in the run that the wave angle and size in conjunction with the breeze velocity strangely began to resemble the pattern that we had back home in the channel in Hawaii. Instead of the backdrop of Richmond Yacht Club with UC Berkeley in the distant background, I had this image of the Ko’olau mountains in my mind and settled into a familiar groove and scene that had been practiced countless of times before.
As the boat accelerated down each wave, I lost awareness of where Mark was positioned, and it wasn’t until I was within a few boat lengths of the bottom mark, that I realized I had gone past him and opened up about a ten length lead on him going into the second windward leg. At the top of the last beat, I was able to stretch the lead and coast down the final reach to take the win in the first race of the day.
As soon as I finished, I met up with Coach Pat and we watched the rest of the fleet finish, with specific attention to where Mark finished. Mark had dropped to 4th in this race, which meant that I had a 6-point lead going into the last race. Again, six points can evaporate in an instant in one race, however, what it meant was that it put more pressure on Mark to put at least 6 boats between him and me in this last race.
f anybody could do it, Mark certainly had the tools. What it meant for me was that I needed to keep my cool, sail a solid race, and stick near him so that placing boats between us would prove more difficult.
Just prior to the start of the last race, as I’m collecting my thoughts and taking a deep breath, Junior sails up to me with a big grin and says, “John, you’ve got this bro, go seal the deal!” It was just the tension breaker that I needed as it was the same quote I threw at him just prior to the Smythe Champs.
The final race fired off without a hitch and as expected, Mark and I pulled our way to the top of the fleet on the first beat with Mark rounding in the lead with me close behind in second. Our positions held the same upon reaching the reach mark, but when we started the beginning of the run, I pushed a little too hard on one wave and ended up death rolling! With one quick move, I jumped over the rail onto the daggerboard and sprung the boat up quickly enough to keep the boat moving downwind and was fortunate enough to lose only one boat in the process.
This sobering event brought me back to reality as I told myself in a loud audible voice to just stay exactly where I was. Third place in the race would win the regatta, pushing harder might lose it. So, with that, cruise control and a loose covering of the fleet was the order for the remainder of the race.
It’s hard to describe how it felt crossing the finish line with many spectator boats blowing horns and cheering. Having been jacked up on adrenaline for the previous eight days, the whole scene was surreal, and it took a while for it to sink in that I had become an Olympian. The blood, sweat, tears and failures of the last six years had all come to fruition.
In true champion form, Mark sailed over and congratulated me for the win as we recounted the epic battle we had put each other through over the course of the previous eight days. Had the event ended a day later or even two days earlier, it would have been Mark on top.
Danielle had fought valiantly but came up short on her bid in the Europe Dinghy class. Her poise, grace, and support were the reason for my success and I couldn’t have achieved the result without her and the fact that we did this together meant more than any victory could satisfy. Coach Pat was an amazing addition to our team and I am forever grateful for all of his support during the event.
At the awards ceremony, sailing TV commentator Gary Jobson interviewed me and asked what my training plans were moving forward to the Games. I responded that to be certain, I would spend quite a bit of time down in Sydney Harbor training with the world’s best competition in addition to doing some events in Europe, and of course, keep training back home in Hawaii.
When he asked me who my training partners were out in Hawaii, I responded, “Why Danielle and Andrew Lewis, of course.” He then responded, “Andrew Lewis? Isn’t he 17?” to which I responded,” He sure is, and I can’t imagine training without him and just as much as we’ve provided inspiration to him, he has done the same for us in his perseverance and motivation to go after his goals. The kid is the real deal.”
Dedicated to all youth sailors with dreams of high performance. Sail inspired and always reach for the top. Citius, Altius, Fortius.