A Balancing Act

Olympic sailing and campaigning is grueling and time consuming, which is why it becomes an athlete’s full-time job. Throw that in with attaining a college degree and you have Junior 49er sailors. Will Jones and Evan DePaul recently took home gold at 2017 49er Junior World Championships in Kingston, Ontario while Jones is completing a degree in mechanical engineering and DePaul has two years left towards his degree in Fitness and Health Promotion. If this is not enough, Jones also competes on the Queen’s University sailing team, taking the title “student-athlete” and time management to a new level.

Jones is attending Queen’s and DePaul is a student at St. Lawrence College, both of which are located in Kingston, Ontario. Going to school in the same city conveniently allows for training sessions throughout the fall, while course loads are still light and temperatures are not too low. “School takes up so much time of the year, so we try to take advantage as much as possible of the free time we are given.” Finding time to train on the weekends is not quite enough, so last year they devoted their three-week Christmas break to training in Miami. With school taking priority, they wait until spring approaches to launch into full time training and local competitions.

“Balancing school and sailing has been really tough, especially in the past couple years since we decided to go full-on into campaigning.” But lucky for Jones, he claims his teachers are understanding of varsity student-athlete demands and fortunately are flexible with deadline extensions. In college sailing there are frequent team racing and match racing regattas, but Jones says he primarily sails fleet racing in 420s, which in the end is beneficial for developing tactics for 49er regattas. “University sailing is generally raced on short courses with very little speed differences between boats. We haven’t had a ton of experience in the international fleet, but I think the biggest connection to 49er sailing is the importance of minimizing the simple mistakes around the course. Hitting the lay lines really well, setting yourself up to be in the right spot on the next leg and avoiding being slowed down by interactions with other boats. Although, I think in 49er sailing you realize a lot quicker when you’ve made a mistake and when you do, they are a lot more punishing.”

As for the ladies, Ragna and Maia Agerup won gold in the 49erFX fleet at Junior Worlds. These Norwegian twin sisters have actually moved to the United States to attend University and develop their sailing through college racing as well. Ragna finished her freshman year at Connecticut College and is transferring to Brown University in the fall to study Computer Science, and Maia will be transferring from Roger Williams to Boston University studying Business. With both schools in the Northeast, they not only meet up to train in the 49erFX on the weekends, but also sail against each other (both skippering) in college regattas for some sister competition!

Like Jones and DePaul, the Agerup sisters keep school as a priority, but spend their holidays training, their weekends competing in college sailing, and their free weekends training for Olympic sailing. But this is a lifestyle they have grown accustomed to, balancing sailing and studies. It is also a learning experience spending so much time racing dinghies! “They are very different to the 49er because they are slower. This gives more time to think and discuss tactics and moves. We do feel like we are still improving our sailing skills because it is so much tactics and other things to think about when you are sailing boats that go slower,” Maia explains.

All four of these Junior World champions have much left to learn in the classroom and on the water before completing degrees or qualifying for Tokyo. Until then, Maia says, “Next up for us would be to continue what we are doing, with college, college sailing, and our 49erFX campaign and take one year at a time. We will see if we are able to keep up with the other teams that are campaigning full time, but we are dedicated to spend all our holidays and spare time on training and participating in as many international regattas as possible…The Jr. Worlds was definitely a nice way for us to begin our summer.”