Growing together: a freshman and a sailing program

Four years ago, freshman Colin Kennedy was hitting the water at a simple practice session for his Long Island youth sailing team. There, he met the man to whom he would later entrust his athletic future.

John Pearce, now GW’s sailing head coach, got an early, and rather short, glimpse at Kennedy, but the close-knit world of sailing kept the two close together.

Out on the Potomac River this fall, Kennedy and Pearce are reunited again, working together to serve as examples of the young program’s potential.

“He’s coached me along the way at different stages,” Kennedy said, “and now for it all to come back together and have him as my coach again is a tremendous opportunity that I couldn’t be any happier with.”

With only a year of varsity competition under the program’s belt, Pearce has said GW is realistically two or three years away from adding some trophies to the Smith Center shelves. The team finished toward the back of the pack in most of its tournaments last year.

Therefore, while searching for his first recruiting class last summer, Pearce had the inauspicious job of pitching an unproven program.

“As a first-year varsity program last year, the first batch of recruiting, it’s sort of a different discussion because you’re selling the potential of the program and the investment being made,” Pearce said.

But that didn’t scare Kennedy away from GW. In fact, it encouraged him.

“It makes me want to say that maybe if I do come here, and if I do put in that work and that time and effort, I can help push the team over to that point where we’re really starting to see some really good numbers up on the board, and definitely a bunch of trophies,” Kennedy said.

And he couldn’t pass up that opportunity – or that of GW’s engineering program or compete under Pearce. As Kennedy said, “every little kind of detail fell insanely into place.”

Now that he has made it to campus, Kennedy’s biggest hurdle is adjusting to the different pace of college sailing.

Since Kennedy and Pearce first met, the freshman’s expertise has always been on the laser boat – a one-person Olympic class boat.

He showed off that specialty last weekend at his debut event, the Middle Atlantic Intercollegiate Sailing Association Laser South qualifier, when Kennedy grabbed the sixth and final qualifying spot for the MAISA Laser Championships in October. His teammate and fellow freshman Daniel DelBello finished second.

However, GW’s program, and college sailing as a whole, mostly focuses on FJ sailing – a two-person teamed boat. With all-day regattas, multiple races and different boats per day, Pearce said Kennedy has plenty to add to his tournament repertoire in order to thrive.

“For Colin and our other freshmen [DelBello and Brendan Shanahan], they can focus mostly on becoming a part of the team, blending in with our team culture, and then when they go and compete they can just focus on competition,” Pearce said.

So despite years of training and tournament experience, for the first time, Kennedy is the outsider. He’s coming into an inexperienced, but close-knit team that experienced the steep learning curve that comes with being a varsity sport last year.

Kennedy is embracing the situation, though, already seeing places where he can be a teacher and where he needs to sit back and listen to the upperclassmen. In the end, Kennedy said the high-level of competition is enough for him, as well as the opportunity to help build a program from the ground up.

“Being able to go out and sail out on the Potomac after classes, I don’t think I could be any happier than to do that. It’s like, 2 o’clock rolls around and it’s time to go sailing,” Kennedy said.

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