Student-run sailing team enjoys success

For the GW sailing team, sport is as much fun as it is form.

Wind whips past you, catching the sails of your boat, and you pull the jib rope just tight enough to give your skipper enough energy to steer to the front of the race. As you glide through the water, you work intently with your partner to reach the ultimate goal – to win the regatta.

But one mistake in the water could cost you a win – or worse, could put you or your sailing partner in harm’s way.

Sophomore team member Hilly Walrod knows all too well what can happen if a boat is capsized in cold weather conditions. She was hospitalized for hypothermia earlier in the season.

“We were at a regatta and it was 45 degrees, and I thought I was prepared with my warm gear and stuff,” Walrod said, who was quick to add the sport itself is not dangerous. “It just comes down to your knowledge of what you’re capable of. You never wanna put yourself in a situation in which you don’t know what’s going on.”

Team captain Will Ricketson said mistakes are just one part of the sport that makes it challenging.

“Mistakes happen. The good thing about sailing is that there are usually a lot of races at an event, so if you have one bad race you can go back and try and do better,” he said. “Like any other sport, sailing is about mentally shaking it off and focusing on the next challenge so it doesn’t drag you down.”

For Ricketson and the 30-member sailing team, the greatest challenge was the Atlantic Coast Tournament at Cornell University – where the entirely student-run team faced competition last weekend from big names like Princeton, American, Boston University, Dartmouth, and Georgetown, to name a few.

In a blog post after the tournament on the group’s Web site, Ricketson said poor weather, lack of wind and other issues resulted in the team’s second-to-last place finish.

“A dying breeze and a multi-boat pile-up at the leeward mark pushed GW back in the fleet,” Ricketson said of one of the races. “We certainly felt that it was far from our best showing of the season.”

Ricketson added, however, that the sailing team is still ranked 33rd out of only 108 teams across the nation and any finish at such a prestigious tournament is a win for the group.

“GW has not qualified for this in decades, so it’s a pretty big accomplishment that we were able to get there,” Ricketson said. “People have expressed a lot of surprise that we’ve been able to improve ourselves so quickly. Two years ago we had 10 people on the team, no equipment and very little funding to speak of.”

The group secured the invitation to the prestigious tournament at the end of October at the War Memorial Trophy, where the team also faced stiff competition from well-ranked teams.

“In college sailing, the tiniest program faces the biggest and best-funded varsity team,” Ricketson said. “It’s a pretty big accomplishment and we had to beat a lot of teams to get in.”

Junior Meredith Carroll said the laid-back attitude of GW’s team was in stark contrast to other teams at the war memorial competition.

“I was stuffing my life jacket with granola bars and realized that the Navy Academy coach saw me and laughed,” Carroll said with a smile. “I had to sneak the third bar in there to avoid the embarrassment.”

Fellow junior Anne Laterra, who joined the team her freshman year, said the team gets along outside of competitions and practice and that a love of sailing keeps her coming back year after year.

“There’s always something to learn, that’s the great thing about sailing,” Laterra said. “You can be 80 and you can be four and you can still be sailing.”

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