As the boat under my feet bounced violently from wave to wave, submerging the bow every few seconds and throwing what seemed like a sea’s worth of water over the open deck, my eyes burned with salt water, and my muscles strained to keep my body on the boat. A dark patch of ripples erupted on the water in front of the boat, giving a brief moment’s notice before the sails loaded up and lurched the boat forward into the next onslaught of frothy water. All I could think about was how to keep the boat moving so that we could make it around the next mark as quickly as possible.
That was 9 years ago, at my first ever world championship, the 2005 29er Worlds. At that event, I think that I did more swimming than sailing, and by the end of 6 days of racing, I was exhausted, frustrated, and disappointed with our result. Fast forward to today’s 25 knot race course, and I felt many of the same sensations as we sailed upwind through the washing machine of chop. Fortunately though, resolve eclipsed exhaustion, curiosity replaced frustration, and I am more determined than ever to perform at the top level.
Sailing is a sport of learning to rebound from losses in a way that makes you stronger and better equipped to handle whatever challenges that the wind and the waves throw your way. In contrast to other sports, where one team wins and one team loses each match, for the single winner of this regatta, there will be 79 losers, and even that eventual winner will probably have lost the majority of the races in which they competed. A wise student of mine once pointed out that allowing a loss to occur is not a mistake, but allowing that loss to alter your process or change your frame of reference is. So far at this event, we have made improvements during every day of racing, and the data that we are collecting will be invaluable in creating our training program leading up to the next event.
After the frustration and disappointment of the 2005 29er Worlds had worn off, I remember being left with a new appreciation for the level of competition that I was facing, and in the following season, that understanding fueled my commitment to attain the next level. Over the course of the 2006 and 2007 seasons, we won almost every US 29er event on the calendar, and wrapped up the year by earning the right to represent the United States at the ISAF Youth Worlds as the top boys team in the country.
Today I am confident that our losses at this regatta are going to pay huge dividends during our training this fall, and into next year because I have observed this process countless times, I have coached Dane through this process, and I have lived this process ever since my first loss to Sam Verhasselt on a Sea Shell Sunday.
This harsh reality of sailing is what makes it so special and what makes the journey so valuable. Those who are able to embrace the learning process, to find gratitude for the opportunities to improve, and to keep on focusing on the wind and the water against the boat rise quickly through the ranks.
We have two more days of racing in Bronze Fleet, and we will continue to battle for every point, but this will probably be my final blog post until after the event, as we will be spending the next few evenings cataloguing the lessons learned, and formulating our approach to the next several months of training. Thank you to everyone who has read our posts, followed our results, “liked” our Facebook posts, and supported us in these early stages of our Olympic journey. A special thank you to all of our amazing team members who have made this trip possible through their generous donations, and to the Saint Francis Sailing Foundation, Kaenon Polarized, Avasol Natural Sunscreen, Light and Motion, and the Waterlust crew.