Tribute to Helmut, leader of adventure

Published on May 10th, 2021

Before Nikole Barnes and Lara Dallman-Weiss earned selection to represent the USA at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, they had to take that first step to begin their campaign. This was in October 2017, and critical to their effort was equipment.

With news of the tragic bicycle accident that took the life of Helmut Jahn, Lara reflects on his personal impact in this tribute to Helmut:

One of my dreams was to one day have you take me on an architectural tour of Chicago. I was fascinated and impressed with your knowledge and approach to life and I am forever grateful for the many places I was able to see in this world because of the Flash Gordon.

Before my first event with the Flash in Sydney, I had always heard great Helmut stories and I couldn’t help but want to be a part of this. The spirit of the team was adventure; we never went to our hotel rooms to work or get a good night sleep, there was always an adventure waiting after a long day of sailboat racing.

Your style was impressive, unique details but so simple, always high quality and never excessive.

I have a few memories to share that have made an impact on me:

In between racing we always had mixed nuts on the boat; I went to the back of the boat to hand Helmut the box after taking a handful and he said, “One at a time.” And then silence. As I was processing what he was saying he continued, “Everyone shovels them into their mouths and you should only eat one at a time”

I think about this small practice of mindfulness often.

Once in Ancona, Italy we went for team dinner around 5pm, way before any of the locals were eating. The town center had several restaurants and Helmut pointed and insisted on one of them. By the time we were finishing the place had filled up and I noticed that none of the other restaurants had guests.

When I asked Helmut how he knew where the good spot was, he explained how the windows were cut in a unique way and were excellent quality so if they paid that attention to detail the food must be good.

At the same regatta there was a major strike at the marina and the entrance was blocked after our team had already gotten to the boat, leaving several other teams outside. As we sat at the dock waiting to hear what the race committee planned to do, Helmut said, “You see, there are things the Flash can do that nobody else can!”

Another time, the team was going to dinner by boat up the Chicago river, and when we went through the locks the operator came over the loud speaker and told us we all needed to wear our life jackets before they would close the river, Helmut’s response? “We don’t need to wear them, we are the Flash Gordon, nothing can stop us!”

I always appreciated Helmut’s bold rebellious comebacks, his creativity, and his attention to detail.

Helmut bought Nikki and I our first boat; I was so nervous to ask him! It was after racing the 2017 Farr 40 North Americans in Chicago with the Flash and I was staying at his house. The team had left town and I stayed because I was working the next week with another team.

My belief in Nikki and I as a team, and my dream was so strong, and I knew I needed to do whatever it took to raise the money and resources for us to kickstart our campaign.

We were both eating breakfast and Helmut was reading the paper in silence, and wherever it came from, I gained the courage and asked Helmut if he would like to be a part of our team and buy us our first (used) team boat.

He sat in silence for a few minutes and then asked me two questions: does this mean he needs to buy us all of our boats and does he get to name it. Yes, the boat is named Flash Gordon 7, and is the same boat we have raced almost our entire campaign and the one we qualified for the Olympics with.

He told me he wanted to give to our team because it’s so uncommon for people my age to have a dream and wholeheartedly go after it, and he appreciated and supported that in younger generations.

Helmut poured his own wine at team dinners; he said it was because he didn’t want our dinner conversation to be disturbed by the wait staff but I think he wanted to have control over how much everyone drank!

Sometimes he would open up a work project at the table and I would get a sneak peek into his latest building, I felt so special to be in the know. He always had an ice cold beer at the dock in a frosted mug when we finished racing and swam or biked before sailing, a great routine and a well-balanced lifestyle!

“I think it’s the journey in your life to find out what real beauty is, and also discover beauty in things that are, on first fight, not beautiful” – Piet Oudolf

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