The Crossover Effect
Published on April 7th, 2021
What does a long career in top-level dinghy racing have to do with endurance fitness competitions? More than you think, says two-time Sunfish World champion Derrick Fries Ph.D.
I fell in love with sailing at a very early age. There were no video games and our black and white television was good for three stations. Spending a full day on the water practicing finding windshifts was the absolute best entertainment I could find, and I had all the time in the world to do it. But this changed as I got older. Then there were regattas, mostly two-day events, creating a large time drain. I burned endless hours rigging and derigging, traveling, and packing and unpacking the car. I loved it, but like many sailors, I struggled to balance all this with work and family.
One of the biggest benefits of racing—mostly singlehanded sailboats—was that it taught me the value of being physically fit. I enjoyed the anaerobic and aerobic part of conditioning. To train, I joined the high school track team and ran marathons. To win my first sailing world title, I committed to a rigorous training program: running, swimming, and working out six days a week. But getting on the water to practice was more difficult. After becoming a middle school principal in 1996, I worked long hours with only three weeks of annual vacation. Each sailing season, I was lucky to race three or four regattas. Practice time was increasingly limited. As I climbed the administrative ladder, with a family of three boys, finding time for two full days of regatta sailing was difficult. I still worked out six days a week, but all between the hours of 4 and 6 a.m.
By now, having little or no time to sail left me feeling lost. I still had an intrinsic desire to compete but little opportunity to do so. As time went on, I had to decide how to compete and still maintain a family-work balance. I worked out each day in “stealth mode,” completed by the time my family awoke. Sitting through boring meetings, I often wondered, what sport would allow me use of my good sailing skills with a reduced time commitment? I had to compete and needed sailing but felt forced to seek a substitution…and this was not an easy thing to accept. – Full report
Editor’s note: Success is the reward for hard work, but the trouble with success is how sailing can become less fun when you can’t maintain it. As one mentor once explained, “It’s not the climb up the mountain that’s hard, it’s the climb down.”