Brightening the view toward the goal

Published on December 9th, 2019

As we explore gender balance and address disparities within the sport, the ability to increase gender diversity is heightened by those role models that had succeeded in overcoming the barriers that existed.

In the USA, among the great examples is Betsy Alison, a five-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year Awards and inductee in the National Sailing Hall of Fame.

Now through her current work as Chair of the Para World Sailing Committee, and for US Sailing as the Adult Programs Director, she provides that beacon for others to follow.

What was her path? Here’s what Roger Vaughan wrote for her 2011 Hall of Fame Induction:

Betsy Alison started sailing at age 7 because her father insisted. Grumpy at first, soon Betsy was singing with her pals as they slipped happily over Barnegat Bay. She was successful as a local sailor, but turning it into a life dream, or a profession, never occurred to her.

Then in 1977 she found herself at Tufts University, which just happened to have the best sailing team in the country. When her father died during her freshman year, a friend persuaded her to go sailing on Upper Mystic Lake. For the first time Alison realized her natural aptitude for the sport.

A self-described seat-of-the-pants sailor, she learned the technical side from talented Tuft’s teammates. She credits numerous mentors, like Dave Perry who told her to buy a Laser, then told her how to sail it in heavy air: “pull everything tight and hike” (she did, winning her first, full-rig Laser regatta); her coach Joe Duplin, who pushed her to do more than she thought possible; and fellow collegians like Ken Read, Tommy Lihan, Morgan Reeser, and Lynn Jewell Shore.

An Honorable Mention for All-American at Tufts in 1981, Alison has a unique ability to quickly apply what she learns. Ken Read told her how to sail a J/24 over lunch, after which she won the first of her five Women’s Keel Boat Championships.

As someone who has never been afraid to ask questions, she never had felt discriminated against on the water: “You have to prove yourself. When you get the job done on the race course, you develop respect.”

While the gender imbalance in sailing is easy to see, doing something about it requires addressing the barriers, which are best reduced by the boots that stomp over them. But for those boots to take steps, having examples like Betsy brightens the view toward the goal.

“Stand up to your obstacles and do something about them. You’ll find they haven’t half the strength you think they have.” – Norman Vincent Peale

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