Harken Derm

There is no reward without sacrifice

Published on September 12th, 2019

We’ve said it before at Scuttlebutt… we’re fans of Canadian Sarah Douglas. In this report she shares the grind of her pursuit of the Olympic podium.


What a summer it has been! I was faced with the highest of highs and lowest of lows, and I am thankful as it all goes towards preparing me for Tokyo 2020. Saying that the last two months has been busy is an understatement; 5 weeks in Japan, 2 weeks in Peru, 9 flights with a total flying time of 73 hours, and it was all worth it.

I come away from the summer with a Pan Am GOLD Medal, 7th at the Olympic Test Event and a world championship that didn’t go to plan. Read on about how every event was a unique experience that has made a huge impact on who I am and my program going into the final push towards the Olympics.

Laser Radial World Championships – Sakaiminato, Japan
This is what my entire year was planned for – my peak event. I was incredibly anxious and impatient about getting to Japan and racing. This was an opportunity for early Olympic team selection, and the pressure of it all adversely impacted my performance. Three BFDs (false start) is never how you want to race any event, let alone the most important regatta of the year.

On the final day of the qualifying series, I got my first two BFDs off of general recalls and was forced to watch the racing from the sidelines. Three races were scheduled and it was now 4:30pm and I was unsure if there was enough time to get one more race in for the day.

I had been on the water for seven hours of constantly paying attention to clouds, shifts and what side of the race course was winning. When it was time for me to race, it was do or die to make it into gold fleet. I finished the race in 5th place and it was shockingly close. I was the last boat in gold fleet by a tie breaker.

Later that night the adrenaline of the day was still pumping, and I struggled to sleep. I woke up at 5am ready to race in Gold fleet but my nervous system had not calmed down. The combination of PTSD of the starting line and my mental state I had 3 rough races.

After talking to my coach (Vaughn Harrison) we decided I can’t be racing at a world championship coming off the line 2nd or 3rd row, so it was time to get back to my normal starting. Then I got a 3rd BFD; it was devastating and the first time my coach saw me cry.

I had dinner with my parents that night and was able to do a mental reset. The next morning I was back to my normal mindset and finished the last day with a 4th and a bullet

Although the overall result was not what I wanted: I learnt so much about myself during the event, and I was happy to have turned it around on my last day. I know where I can be, and it showed in some of the races. This was my first event of 3, so I could not dwell on my results.

Next up was the Pan Am Games in Peru. On the journey to Paracas, I wrote down my feelings in my journal and then turned the page mentally and literally. It’s important to not let one bad race or one bad regatta affect the next, and that’s exactly what I did. Results.

GOLD at the Pan American Games
Thirty hours of travelling and I arrived in Paracas, Peru for the 2019 Pan Am Games. When I first arrived in the satellite village, my goals were to overcome jet lag, establish a routine and get a few days of training on the water before racing started.

My coach, Sport Psychologist (Rolf Wagschal) and I had planned out my two months. We had contingency plans for everything and I knew what I needed to do even after a tough world championship. But not everything goes to plan and in the journey to Peru I unexpectedly caught a bacterial infection.

I had to go on bed rest and take antibiotics for most of my time in Peru. I only left my room for sailing and meals. Although this isn’t how I wanted to spend my time in this fun environment, I was happy to have a full support team around me in Peru and at home to make sure everything went smoothly.

Paracas brought the wind with a building sea breeze of 18 knots every day. The racing was intense, the top competitors were battling in every race. More specifically I was in a battle with the American Charlotte Rose.

In the qualifying races I had pushed myself beyond my comfort zone, sometimes crossing the finish line breathless as I had emptied the tank in the races. I was sitting in 2nd for most of the event and had closed the gap to one point on the day before the medal race. The medal race was a winner take all race between the American and I.

It was blowing 20-25 knots for the medal race. As I’m warming up, I remind myself of the fantastic racing that I had done, and know that no matter what the outcome, I should be proud of myself. To be honest, the American should have the upper hand on me in these conditions; she had proved that earlier in the week.

Medal races are a sprint (30 minute race) and I knew that the day would come down to boat handling and most importantly, grit. I was prepared to leave it all out on the water and that’s exactly what I did; I led the race from start to finish.

As I crossed the finish line completely out of breath, I could not believe what I had just done. I was the 2019 Pan American Champion and it had not fully hit me yet.

My teammates ran into the water celebrating and I was overwhelmed. I am still overwhelmed by the love and support I have received since then. It starts to sink in while I’m at the medal ceremony. They call my name, I step up onto the podium, the national anthem starts to play, I look to my right, hear my parents and team sing along and then I start to get emotional.

This is the moment that I will remember for the rest of my life, and I hope to do the same in less than a year in Tokyo. Results.

Olympic Test Event – Ready Steady Tokyo
After another long journey, I arrived in Japan ready for the Olympic Test Event – Ready Steady Tokyo. Exhausted from the last two challenges, I had one more event to do and I had the right mindset.

I knew that I would be feeling exhausted; it is easy for athletes to want to go home and not enjoy their time at this point, but it was important to remind myself that I am so lucky to have the opportunity to be in Japan. I am always proud to represent Canada and this would be a great experience.

This was going to be the equivalent of competing at the Olympics at my worst. But I persevered. Due to back problems that started in Peru, followed by long hours of travel, I was in pain while hiking and couldn’t sail to my full ability. With the help of physiotherapy, I was able to complete the racing.

Despite my physical condition, I was happy to finish 7th at the Olympic Test Event. We also learnt a lot about the extreme heat of a Japanese summer and what Team Canada and myself need to do to prepare for Tokyo 2020. Results.

For additional information about Sarah Douglas, click here.

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