Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pan Am Games and Australian Arrival

It's been a fast-moving October and I've finally had a few days to rest and catch up on communications! I'm currently in Fremantle, Australia beginning preparations for the ISAF World Championships beginning the first week of December, and I'm looking forward to working in this location for the next month before the event.

Last week I was happy and excited to bring home a Bronze medal for the United States at the Pan American Games. The Pan Am Games are like the Olympics of the Americas, with all the ceremony, security, and ritual expected at such an event. Held once every four years before the Olympics, summer Olympic sports and even a few non-Olympic events compete in the Pan Am Games. For North, South, and Central Americans, the event is a great chance to bring home medals for their country, as the competitive pool is smaller, although still at a high level. Such was the case with our fleet of seven women - very competitive sailors, but as sailing is an expensive sport, fewer countries on the American continents participate. The event is made to be really special, and it was an indescribable honor to stand on the podium at an elaborate, ritualistic ceremony and receive a medal for the USA. The experience was a culmination of the hard work and challenges I faced this year, and a new beginning and feeling of excitement for the future of my racing and Olympic campaign.

I went into the regatta with just a few goals: use and reinforce the light wind techniques I freshly learned in Annapolis, get good starts, and create a good tactical plan before each race. The conditions gave me the chance for good practice of the new skills. We had a daily sea breeze of around 6-10 knots with a bit of ocean swell and chop. The weather was sunny, hot and humid, which was a nice change from the European events, which are usually really cold! I enjoyed carrying out the relatively simple plan for the event, which clearly worked!

Railing the board in light wind

Overall, I was impressed with the effort the Vallarta Yacht Club and Mexican volunteers and event staff put in to make the event successful. The venue was thoughtfully chosen and organized, and resources for sailors like water, food, and a hangout at the VYC were readily available. The race committee was efficient and learned quickly, and worked to maximize the opportunity for the best breeze every day. The event's staff and volunteers were helpful and friendly, and were clearly thrilled to host so many international sailors. I was happy that my first impression of Mexico was of good people, and I gained good perspective on how well Mexican and American culture overlaps.

Although I enjoyed the competition and getting to experience a bit of Mexico, an unexpected pleasure to me was how proud I felt to represent the United States, and how people reacted to me as a Pan American Games athlete. During travel, Americans were very excited to see and meet Pan American athletes wearing all their team gear. They felt proud that we were competing, and the Pan American Games were a tangible reminder that the summer Olympic Games are just around the corner. Although I'm definitely a patriotic American, being a full-time competitor in a small and less-recognized sport, traveling and competing alone, doesn't usually leave a lot of room for thought about national pride -- personal performance is the focus. A jolt back to the bigger picture of the Olympic Games was a welcome and humbling experience.

Boards and bikes en route to Puerto Vallarta

After the Pan Am Games, I flew to San Francisco; I wanted the opportunity to visit the St. Francis Yacht Club, of which I am a new member, to thank them for the coaching support they gave me this spring. In addition, flying to Australia is a lot easier from the west coast. I had an incredible amount of equipment (two full sets of RS:X gear plus duffel bag and backpack) and got my heart rate up at each layover dragging it around. First was a leg to LAX on Southwest Airlines, separate from my international flight to Perth. I dragged the gear from the domestic to the international terminal, up an escalator, and re-checked it. Next, after a 16-hour leg from LAX to Melbourne, the gear needed to clear customs. In order to accomplish this, I dragged the gear, with the help of an airline rep, through the terminal, up an escalator (two trips), and down an elevator (three trips), as it was too big to check in the normal oversize area. The airline rep was unfazed by the size of the gear; clearly a lot of sporting equipment gets flown to Australia! After getting the gear in Perth and loading everything on the poor little rental car, the entire trip took about 32 hours. I was jet lagged, exhausted, and really stinky and sweaty!

I'm a little more recovered now and am excited about training in Fremantle, where I have a big opportunity to improve my planing technique. I can't believe I'm in Australia, a place I've always dreamed of seeing. Other than training, I have some big plans for bird watching and seeing some completely different species - I just have to find a new bird book! I'd also like to stick my head underwater for a few days and learn some new things. I'm looking forward to a completely different experience.

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