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Sea Sure 2020 - LEADERBOARD

#SailToLA, #BackTheBid

by David Schmidt 29 Mar 08:00 PDT March 29, 2022
Nick Scandone and Maureen Mckinnon-Tucker after winning the Gold medal in the SKUD 18 class - 2008 Paralympics, Qingdao © Dan Tucker / www.sailchallengeinspire.org

The chance to see world-class sailing unfurl on a world-class patch of brine is an experience to be savored, especially given the backdrop of our crazy world. I was lucky enough to have that experience last weekend in San Francisco, where I had a front-row seat to SailGP's Season 2 Grand Final. While the sailing was stunning, and while the Australia SailGP Team foiled away with the top trophy and a cool $1M prize purse, this isn't a story about F50 catamarans. Instead, it's a story of people attempting to fix one of the worst institutional wrongs that I've witnessed in almost 20 years of covering the wonderful sport of sailing.

Some backstory is required for anyone who is new to this newsletter.

On January 31, 2015, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) dropped the news that sailing would be dropped from the Paralympic Games (to make room for badminton and taekwondo), starting with the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

Instantly, a pathway to sports success was slammed shut for many sailors around the world.

I'll come clean. Two of my biggest sailing heroes are Nick Scandone and Maureen McKinnon, who won gold together in the SKUD 18 class at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics. Tragically, Scandone lost his battle with ALS less than six months later (at age 42).

But not before he heard The Star-Spangled Banner played at the medal ceremony. In fact, this was the last time that the USA earned gold in either the Olympics or the Paralympics. [N.B., the Paralympics take place right after the Olympics, so Scandone and McKinnon's medal is more recently minted than the one that Anna Tunnicliffe Tobias won in the Laser Radial class at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.]

I never had the chance to meet Scandone, but he stunned me with his sailing skill, sheer determination, and drive. The man was determined to win, only gold would do, and nothing was going to stop him or McKinnon from accomplishing this goal.

Under, over, around, or through.

I've since had the chance to talk to McKinnon about her experiences on the campaign, and I can tell you that sailors—and humans— do not come any finer.

While their story is indelible for me, I've also had the privilege to interview Brad Kendell, who won a silver medal in the Sonar class at the Rio 2016 Paralympics with Rick Doerr and Hugh Freund. Kendell lost his legs in a 2003 plane crash that cost the life of his father (Bruce Kendell, who was a highly accomplished big-boat sailor) and one of his best friends. This was the kind of experience that would mentally hobble many people, myself included. Yet Kendell kept our interview time focused on his Paralympic campaign and the Never Say Never Pirate Camp that he helped start in Clearwater, Florida, with the goal of turning limb-different kids on to sailing.

(If you are looking for a fantastic charity, be sure to check them out: www.neversayneverfoundation.org.)

When I was 15, I managed to break my back in three places playing lacrosse, but I fully recovered. Then, when I was 35, I had to have my right shoulder replaced (way too much rock climbing in my teens and 20s) with a beautiful piece of lathe-turned titanium and stainless steel. The difference between myself and these sailors? I complain. I bitch. I moan. When my shoulder or back hurt (not infrequently), I'm not above playing the sympathy card with my wife (fortunately, she's smart enough not to pander to my BS). I have personally found limitations; these sailors have forged paths forward. And they brought honor to their country.

Under, over, around, or through.

So, you can imagine my mindset that day in 2015 when I learned of the IPC's horrific decision.

Flash forward to October 26, 2021, and World Sailing announced their "Back the Bid" campaign (www.ussailing.org/news/back-the-bid-world-sailing-campaign) to see sailing reinstated for the Los Angeles 2028 Paralympics. Needless to say, I was thrilled at this news and excited about what this could mean for sailing, and for so many impressive sailors.

This past weekend, while I was in San Francisco, I was privileged to attend World Sailing's Paralympic Reinstatement LA28 Media Event, which was hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club. There, we got to listen to World Sailing officials and three truly impressive sailors— Cristina Rubke, Jim Thweatt, and Ryan Porteous—talk about the pathway to the sea, to nature, to competition, and to the sense of personal freedom that sailing affords. And we also got to hear about sailing's amazing ability to define the world "inclusive", thanks to innovative technologies.

Case in point: Rubke may not have use of her arms or legs, but I would not want to be facing her on a starting line. We all like to win, of course, but—sitting maybe 12 feet away from her—it was dead obvious that she has far, far more fire and drive to push herself and her teammates than I could ever muster.

Remember: I'm the guy who regularly complains to my wife (and anyone else who will listen) about my tin shoulder. Rubke wins sailboat races.

If all goes well, all three of these great sailors will have a chance to hear the Star-Spangled Banner play at their own medal ceremonies at the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics.

But this, of course, is predicated on the success of World Sailing's push.

Currently, the organization is focusing on three criteria needed to show the IPC that sailing deserves Paralympic inclusion (there's that word again), starting with the 2028 Los Angeles Games and hopefully progressing far into the future. These include:

—Increasing global participation in Paralympic sailing to 45 countries on six continents.

—Growing the number of youth sailors (defined as anyone under 30) involved in Paralympic sailing to 20 percent of all participants.

—Growing the number of female sailors on the starting line to 30 percent of the field, and, in time, achieving gender parity.

While World Sailing was unsuccessful in their push to see sailing reinstated into the Paris 2024 Paralympics, we at Sail-World hope that this historic wrong will be corrected when the Paralympics return to the USA for the first time since the Atlanta 1996 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Sharp historians will remember that sailing was a demonstration sport in 1996, so there are few ways to re-round this circle better than to see Paralympic sailing unfurl on American waters in 2028.

Based on everything that I saw at Friday's press conference, the fire to achieve, to push hard, and to win is on full display with North American Paralympic sailors. They might not have been contending for a $1M prize purse last weekend, but—and this is just one man's opinion—I'd argue that, if World Sailing's bid is successful, this victory will be worth far, far more than dollars and cents to countless sailors around the world, and to the sport that we all love best.

#SailToLA, #BackTheBid

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

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