Tokyo 2020: When it all comes together

Published on May 19th, 2020

Anna Weis

When Anna Weis (Fort Lauderdale, FL) took a leave of absence from Boston University as part of her quest to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, she was counting on a coronavirus pandemic to extend the gap.

While Weis and teammate Riley Gibbs (Long Beach, CA) achieved their goal to represent the USA in the Mixed Multihull event, she quickly found herself at a crossroads when the 2020 Games were postponed a year to limit the COVID-19 spread.

Starting BU in the spring of 2017, she had already taken a year and a half hiatus, so was it worthwhile to train another year full-time for the Olympics in 2021 and keep her education on hold? Or, should Weis, 22, return to finish the final three semesters of her health science degree?

“I was actually planning on coming back in the fall, but now I am going to defer another year,” Weis said. “It was a little hard to wrap my head around [it] because I was pretty excited to come back to school and finish my degree, but giving us another whole year to train is pretty big.”

At 5’9″, Weis had been climbing the singlehanded ranks prior to BU, winning Women’s Singlehanded US Nationals along with two top ten finishes at the Youth Sailing World Champs. But with her Olympic aspirations not being fulfilled in college sailing, she shifted to the women’s varsity rowing team.

“Fitness and mental toughness is a huge part in being successful in sailing and I believed rowing would definitely improve my fitness but also my mental toughness,” said Weis. “To this day, being able to walk on to the rowing team has been one of the most amazing opportunities and one the best decisions of my life.

“I’ve been able to translate so many lessons that I’ve learned from rowing over to my sailing. I owe so much to BU Rowing. Despite what so many people have been saying for years, you can make it to the Olympics without sailing in college! Many people doubted my decision but I’m glad I proved them wrong.”

After her sophomore year, Weis decided to take a leave of absence at the semester break of the 2018-19 school year to focus on sailing full-time. Weis soon began training with Gibbs, whom Weis met at a regatta in Florida. Gibbs, 23, needed a new partner, and Weis jumped at the opportunity.

“I reached out to a lot of different girls from around the country and she was the only one that was seriously considering it,” said Gibbs. “You could say, she was kind of on the hook on Day One from first mentioning it.”

The duo won the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. They finished 14th in the 2019 World Championships and 17th in the 2020 World Championships to earn their Olympic bid.

For Weis, taking time off from school was worth it.

“There’s always that thought in your head of, ‘What if we don’t [qualify]?’ But also, ‘What if we do?’” Weis said. “It was scary at first, but a couple months in, I was like, ‘Wow I think we can do this.’

“When we did qualify, it was a relief. It was easier for me to know it was the right thing to take off school because we did qualify.”

But to get to the high-level in the sport takes a significant amount of personal sacrifice.

“Looking back on my life, I guess you could say I made a lot of “sacrifices” for sailing. I wouldn’t change any of it for the world, however, at the time it was sometimes tough. I didn’t hang out with friends on the weekend. I missed prom, homecoming, and senior day.

“Compared to a normal teenage life, one might say I missed out, but to me my life was sailing so I generally didn’t think twice about it. I think of sacrifice as decisions, some bigger than others.

“It’s like weighing out pros and cons. I did end up having to get surgery on my arms. It got to a point where I wouldn’t be able to sail unless I did have the procedure. We lost months of training but it was worth it.

“Coming back from surgery, however, we knew time was precious so we tried to take advantage of the time we had before the trials. Decisions and making sacrifices are scary because you never know if you’re going to make the right one.

“I always tell myself everything happens for a reason and it’s going to work out the way it’s supposed to. After giving up that time for surgery, we trained really hard and believed in our ability to qualify. It definitely wasn’t easy but it worked out for us.”

Note: This story was edited from reports at The Boston Globe and 2niner.

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