by Matt Carter
Have you ever wondered how two Paralympic gold medallists from completely different sports would fare if they traded places for the day?
We decided to put it to the test by inviting Lee Pearson, a ten-time Equestrian Paralympic gold medallist, down to Weymouth and Portland for a day of 2.4mR sailing.
Pearson, who was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita - leaving his matchstick limbs bent and warped, has won three gold medals at Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and a gold, silver and bronze at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
After meeting and becoming good friends with London 2012 Paralympic gold medallist Helena Lucas at a day out at Wimbledon in 2012, the pair decided it would be a fantastic opportunity to trade places for a day in their respective sports.
Luckily for Lucas, Pearson was first up and spent the day down on the south coast at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy where he was introduced to 2.4mR sailing by the British Sailing Team’s Paralympic champion.
After an entertaining hour of getting Pearson kitted out in his dry suit, the Equestrian superstar took to the water in the single handed 2.4mR keelboat for his first taste of Paralympic sailing.
'Lee got on really well in the 2.4mR,' enthused Lucas. 'He picked it up pretty quick and was super keen to learn - he was like a little sponge, he just absorbed so much information in such little time! I think he is now hooked which is great! We just need to get him a boat which is slightly more adapted to him and his needs but I can certainly see him coming back down to Weymouth and Portland again.
'Having won ten gold medals at the Paralympic Games is an unbelievable achievement and it was clear to see his competitive streak out on the water. He is already talking about racing the 2.4mR and had me explaining the racing rules of sailing. It was clear to see his determination to learn from the start.
'Obviously with Equestrian– a lot of it is based around feel and I think sailing is very similar to that. I could see Lee had the feel for it from the off and was able to sense when the boat was going fast, when it heeled up and how it felt so you could definitely see the competitive side but also that natural feel and talent when in a sporting environment.
'As it was his first time in a 2.4mR – the only other slight challenge was figuring out how the best way to get Lee into the boat and the best way to make him feel the most comfortable. Once we had sorted that it was pretty much plain sailing from there – Lee definitely enjoyed his experience which just goes to show that anyone from any sport can have a go at sailing and that the skills used in other sports are easily transferred into sailing.'
Pearson added: 'I was really nervous; I woke up at 5.30am thinking ‘am I going to end up in France or drowned or crash the boat’ but it was brilliant! Helena was a fantastic instructor. It was really technical; I had to learn about the boat, the wind and the tide but I absolutely loved it.
Lee Pearson riding Gentleman from GBR Grade Ib
'I felt like a total beginner which is quite a nice feeling actually due to being at the top of my sport for a long period of time but there are certainly similarities between equestrian and sailing with both sports being a lifetime of learning. It was nice to work with something mechanical; the wind is obviously a huge factor but with horses you have got wind, rain, other horses, humans, cars, tractors - anything is an influence.
When asked if Pearson thinks he would be challenging Lucas for her sport in the 2.4mR at Rio 2016, he laughed and said: 'No not at all – I have certainly got a lot to learn and Helena is very, very talented and I think that was evident when she was teaching me today. She was so relaxed and dead supportive which made it a fantastic experience.'
The next time the Paralympic champions meet will be in Pearson’s Staffordshire stables when Lucas tries her hand at Equestrian.
'Horses can be petrifying for some people; it is such a strange feeling just like it was for me today in getting used to the ‘motion of the ocean’ so to speak, but when you sit on a live animal it is just such a crazy concept that you’re in charge of a live animal which you have got to communicate with and Helena won’t be used to that when it’s her turn,' explained Pearson.
'There is nothing like it – having to communicate and know which signals are what – I guess it very much like one of the faster Olympic sailing classes where you have got to be really fine with everything you do otherwise you risk the chance of a capsize.
'My horses are very sharp, very sensitive as they are top competition horses so it’s like the equivalent of getting in a formula 1 car – so the tables will be turned but Helena will certainly have an amazing time and I know we are both looking forward to it.'
British Sailing Team