Some People Ask Me Why I Live My Life Under A Microscope
I have been asked my some people why I am sailing an Olympic campaign when it means that the life I live is under a microscope and my answer is always the same. I am engaged in this campaign because I am driven to push myself, to become more and to see what I can become with hard work and unbridled effort.
When I decided to engage in an Olympic Sailing campaign I was only 14 years old. I announced my intentions just after I turned 15 and immediately had people ask me why. Let me clarify that a little, I had some people tell me I was crazy for doing this at my age, some wished me luck and still many more offered words of encouragement, support and still many more offered financial help with this long and expensive journey towards the Olympic Games. All of these people and many more told me that they were going to closely watch my campaign, basically that my sailing and by virtue of my full-time sailing career, my entire life would be under a microscope.
I am young compared to practically everybody working towards the Olympic Games in Rio. Not that I am the only young person working towards it, not by far but the average age of an Olympic sailor is 2x my senior. That puts me in a unique situation compared to the pack of athletes I spend the majority of my life with. Since I am so young, I have spent my entire high school career dividing my time between training full-time and maintaining my focus on my education so that I could keep my grades up and get into a great college following the Olympic Games next year.
My full-time sailing is broken into a few distinct categories: Sailing, training in the gym and working with my advisers and sports psychologists and coaches. I spend 6 days a week on the water sailing with crew from around the country working towards becoming the strongest I can be in boathandling, tactics, strategy and sail trim. This is a lot of work but is also probably the most fun I have in my program. After all, what sailor doesn’t love to be on the water making their boats go fast between point a and b? I work out in the gym 5 days a week with a focus on strength and on developing my flexibility and movements on the boat to help prevent injury while decreasing the amount of time it takes to maneuver while under sail. You can imagine that this work is physically demanding and causes a lot of physical stress on the body, but it is all to get me towards my goal so it is almost as much fun as it is work. I meet with my sports psychologist and my coaches when I am off the water to review videos, talk about my performance, discuss improvements I have made and to work on my ever changing development plan to get me to the top of the fleet at the US Olympic Trials and then the Games in Rio. Obviously watching video of yourself and having people critique your performance is a reminder how much I am being watched like a slide under a microscope.
I have several advisers who help me in several areas, but the biggest area is in my fundraising. You can probably guess that sailing an Olympic campaign is expensive. Daily wear and tear on a $36,000 boat that is designed for performance and not for longevity of the equipment plus having top coaches in the sport and the travel to training and regatta venues all adds up pretty quickly. My competition has the advantage of having graduated from college where on top of gaining a great education they also were able to make contacts with people who are now in the business world, giving them access into those companies to raise money through sponsorships and the like and being only 18 years old, I am forced to call individuals and companies (like cold calling) introducing myself and asking for their support of my efforts. This is by far the most difficult part of my campaign as asking for money is not easy and overcoming objections about my age and my ability to keep focused on Gold when competing against people twice my age is daunting to say the least. It is pretty cool to talk with pro athletes like Brian Vickers (Pro NASCAR driver) about their experiences and to get advice from them about how to develop a message that gets companies thinking of the benefits they receive from supporting a young athlete.
Oh, did I mention that I also was a full-time student and just finished my senior year at the Florida Virtual School last month? You all know how much work it is to maintain your grades and get accepted to colleges your senior year…yeah, I did all that too! I am grateful for all the effort my teachers and staff at FLVS put in to help me maintain my training schedule while completing my schoolwork in a highly irregular and hectic daily schedule of studying, tests and reviews with them throughout the years while I am living under a microscope.
Everything I do is to get me towards my dream, my goal of becoming an Olympic Champion so I am not complaining nor do I look at any of this as a negative, it is just what needed to be done to become the strongest athlete I can be and to give me the best chance possible at bringing sailing Gold home to the USA in 2016. It does all take it’s toll though. Imagine a full-time sailing schedule with a full-time school schedule, gym workouts, meeting with coaches and advisers and having to find companies to believe in the power of hard work and effort of a teenager…plus eating, and sleeping. Something had to take the back seat in my life to allow for all this work and so my family, friends and the people who are most important to me often find me tired, worn out and just generally distant if and when I have the time to talk or spend time with them. You really put a strain on relationships when you don’t have the time those people deserve and I know that those people in my life that have put up with my hectic life and schedule and attitudes and distant nature because of it all don’t find it easy to keep me in their lives but still, they put up with me and are truly the reason that I can continue to push through it when times get tough. I know that I couldn’t do it without you and when I win, it will be because of the fact that you are there for me every time I need someone to talk to, or to vent to or just to get my frustrations out and sometimes a much needed shoulder to lean on when I feel like I can’t take the pressure coming at my from all angles. I can do it because of you…you are my inspiration and my motivation (and I know you know who you are and how important you are to me).
So yeah, my life is under a microscope, and yes I have a lot of stress and pressure and have everyone looking over my shoulder, but in the end I know that with the support of friends like you and the generous financial help from individuals and companies that stand behind me I am able to keep my focus, press the edge of my limits and keep plugging away. After all, it is not about getting there as easily as possible but it is all because of being able to overcome obstacles and to have the support of those who mean the most to you that makes you a champion…but I know that it is all of you that are the true heroes because of everything you do for me.
When I go into the US Olympic Trials, it won’t be highly stressful or overbearing because I will be going into it knowing that above everything I have given it my all and that at the end of the regattas I have the best family, friends and support system in the world. I am giving it my all because you believe in me!