She has won the Skud 18 World Championships five times and is a hot prospect for Rio.
British Paralympic bronze medallist 32 year old Alexandra Rickham opened the RYA Dinghy show this morning along with leading British 49er Rio contender Dylan Fletcher.
We talked to Alexandra soon thereafter today...
‘When I was 13 I had a diving accident so I became a C5/6 tetraplegic and had done a lot of sports before my accident. Sailing wasn’t one of them, as I lived in Jamaica primarily and it is not a big sport there.
‘I did all my schooling here in the UK and when I was at university doing my Masters (in Environmental Technology) the Skud 18 had come into existence and somebody was looking for a helm to train up so I figured it was a good way to avoid doing any of my work so I did that and sailed alongside Michael Cogswell who was on the development squad sailing in the 2.4 at the time. But finance proved difficult and so that campaign last less than a year. .
‘In 2007 the RYA were still checking who was going to get in the berth for Beijing and Niki had done a 2.4 event for them and so they put the two of us together and said here is the boat, see what youcan do and we went to Florida and that was when it all started off and managed to beat the team who were the top British Team at the time and then we went to Beijing in 2008. That didn’t quite go to plan but you know to be far it was only a nine month campaign and then we made the decision to solidify the partnership and try for London.
‘London was a bit of a difficult one for us as a team. We put together a really strong campaign, won back to back world titles, 2009 straight through the 2012. We have been battling it out with the Australians pretty much most of the way along the way and then when it came to the actual games we hit a few bumps. We were the team to beat and I think that made us quite big targets for the rest of the team to gang up on us.
Rickham and Birrell, SKUD18 - Paralympics London 2012 - David Staley - IFDS ©
‘The Paralympics we were on Portland Harbour within the harbour walls so it was pretty flat water and also that week we had no wind. It would have been nice if we had seen a bit of wind. In fact most days we had delays and the last day we didn’t even get in the sailing which is unfortunate at that point we had lost the Gold medal but we were hoping to at least to be able to come back and try and take the Silver. We were obviously happy to come away with a medal which was a big step forward for British Sailing. As a team we have managed to do really well in the lead up to Games but then it comes to the Games where we haven’t been able to produce any medals so it was nice to be part of that.
‘Our situation for Rio is that we are obviously pushing on through. Are hoping to be the selected team. Our resume as it stands at the moment would suggest that that would be the case but you know it is two and a half years out and a lot can happen.
‘The focus for us is going to be the IFDS Worlds in Melbourne next year. We have first country qualifiers this year in Nova Scotia, Halifax. This year is when everything starts to wind up anyway in especially in the Paralympic sailing world. This is where country qualifier comes on the books and all of a sudden all these teams start appearing out of the woodwork.
‘Looking forward to Rio, the conditions will be interesting. The problem is that everybody always says it is this kind of venue well Portland should have been a windy venue. Two months before it was howling and we won Sail for Gold in 20 plus knots every day. We are not depending on that in the slightest.
‘Obviously we hope to spend some time in Rio to be able to get used to the waters there and to get a feel for the city and the way things work but at the same time we are just going to be trying to make sure we can cope with whatever is thrown at us and I think that's really going to be the major focus for us.
‘This time round is to make sure that we are very rounded sailors and we can cope with whatever is thrown and then obviously that week then it just comes down to how we perform.
‘The reality is that we luckily don’t have to deal with as much with the weight situation because Niki and I are already one of the smaller teams and we have got 400 kilos under us unlike a lot of the other boats. We are only a fraction of that.
‘Just our focus is going to be, also as well enjoying our sailing. London was such a huge event for all of the British sailors, home games and gets built up quite massively and I think this time round, and by the end of the campaign you are starting to feel God is it ever going to come whereas this time round we hope to really enjoy the next couple of years and be really excited in going to Rio.
‘I went out there at the end of 2012 and it’s a great city and the people are amazing. I think the people of Brazil really make Brazil what it is. We are really looking forward at getting the chance to go out there and enjoy our surroundings and everything that is on offer to us.
‘This summer, our first event now will be Garda, Riva del Garda, a EuroCup event. It will be the first time we will have gone to Garda so we are quite excited about that, hopefully we will get a fleet for Mendemblik again so that will be quite a lot of racing in May. I think there is going to be another event in Italy in June and in our run down into the Worlds because obviously we will be shipping boats and all of that. That's the only difficulty with this time round with this campaign is just boats are always in containers now and it is going to be that way for the next two years.
‘We have got two boats but it means that one boat is only stationary at home as it stands at the moment. We have to figure out how to sort that one out.
‘During Paralympic campaigns the pressure in that week can be pretty intense. It is very, very intense. In hindsight you can say don’t take it too seriously. Its only one event but it is an event that you spent four years of your life gearing up for. It is all about balance. That's what it really comes down to. There are sailors like Bart Simpson who very much personified that.
‘He very much managed to get a lot balanced within his life and I think that's what we all aim and I think that this time round, very much for Niki and I, our aim is to have that balance to be able to spend time at home but then also have the intensity within our sailing side as well.
Rickham and Birrell, SKUD18 - Paralympics London 2012 - David Staley - IFDS ©
‘We are very pleased that Marcus Ledge is continuing to coach us. We worked with him for the last two years of our previous campaign and have decided to stay together. I have got a lot of confidence in what he wants from our program. I think he is also quite excited in being able to roll out the full extent of the program this time.
‘Of course, it’s a team effort and Niki is a lot of fun. Very super competitive individual but very rounded sailor. Has come from a 470 background from able bodied sailing predominantly and just loves sailing. In his spare time he goes sailing while I’m trying to find something completely different. Niki goes for a sail.
‘Very different personality wise. I am very details orientated and quite scientific a lot of the way in which I do things. He is a bit more artistic in his sort of format and is very field related. It has complemented in how we have worked together really because it has meant that we have generally covered most of the things that we needed to cover because both of us are always looking at different angles on any one subject. He is a character that is for sure, likes to chat around the boat park and knows what’s going on.
‘Being invited to open the Show today with Dylan was a lot of fun. I’ve only been to one RYA Dinghy show. Normally we are off somewhere or racing or away on the other side of the planet or something, in the warm weather.
The Show is just great, it is so overwhelming because there is just so much to see. You don’t really know which way to look. Everybody is having an amazing time out there and the kids are really excited. A lot of sticker collecting going on it seems. I just went to the Volvo stand and lots of kids on the Volvo racing game trying to beat all of the team’s times. That's quite fun. Amazing. The next wave of sailors coming up and they are really excited about what’s going on and where they are going next in their sailing.
Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell (SKUD) in action durfing the Miami OCR 2012 - © Richard Langdon/Skandia Team GBR Click Here to view large photo
‘It is nice for us to go and see that also just because it inspires you as well to remember that level of excitement about anything. It’s infectious.’
2012 Paralympic Regatta, London Bronze
2008 Paralympic Regatta, Beijing fifth
2014 ISAF SWC Miami Regatta Gold
2013 IFDS Worlds Gold
2013 SKUD Europeans Gold
2012 Skandia Sail for Gold
2012 Hyeres Regatta Silver
2012 Rolex Miami OCR Silver
2012 IFDS World Champs Gold
2011 Sail Melbourne Regatta Gold
2011 IFDS Worlds Gold
2010 IFDS Worlds Gold
2009 IFDS Worlds Gold