Competing as an athlete for Tokyo 2020 was nothing short of incredible. I had heard that the regatta itself is miserable, the pressure is like nothing I’ve ever felt, and to expect my competitors and friends to become nasty. This wasn’t the truth I wanted to live and I work hard not to give into the complaint culture. So I made a promise to myself after our team won the trials that I would be present and enjoy the Olympic spirit - something I have been curious about for over a decade.
Truthfully, it takes much more than just deciding to show up positive and relaxed, so I leaned heavily on my performance coach, John Denney. He records a daily 15 minute meditation to the sunrise to create and instill habits; I listen each morning to reinforces the experiences I’m looking for and it allows me to visualize a good amount of the racing and interactions I have so I am already familiar with the scene when I live it!
One of the best experiences was attending the opening ceremony. We were given the option to go and I had enough time between opening and our first day of racing that I decided to go and tribute this ritual. We drove to the main village (because sailing was housed in a remote village near where we raced) and had the day to walk around and this is where I completely felt the Olympic spirit. Team USA marched third to last so we had a long time of walking behind stage, slowly winding back and forth while wearing jeans and blazers in the incredibly hot conditions. We didn’t care, we were all in it together! The 7 sailors who went to the opening collectively decided we wanted to be in the front row; picture you’re at a concert with about 250 strong and primed athletes and before you reach the stage you are all slowly walking in line all very curious to get to know each other while at the same time wanting to stay at the head of the line. Right before we marched out everyone chanted the traditional “USA, USA, USA…” I didn’t care that there was no crowd in the stands, this moment definitely fueled my fire!
The village we stayed at was actually a nice resort, and although we weren’t allowed to use any of the 6 pools we also didn’t sleep in the famed cardboard beds. There was a bus that brought us to and from the sailing venue in Enoshima each day where we made our home away from home. The unique and special part about racing the Olympics is that we worked and lived closely with all 13 USA sailors. Our base consisted of two air conditioned containers where we could relax, eat, see our team physiotherapists, take an ice bath, watch other classes race, or help our boat wright Donny fix whatever we might have broken!
There are a few details that stand out to me as being vastly different from any other event I’ve raced. First was the constant buzz of the helicopters above, they would launch before the first race of the day and not come home until the final race had finished, so I got very good at keeping the noise cancelling headphones at the ready. The other big adjustment was all of the regatta documents, the sailing alone had much more extensive paperwork with details such as branding and then we add in COVID protocols which included multiple apps with daily check ins, trackers and saliva tests, and finally all of the camera, microphone, accreditation and tracker details. We were no strangers to the concept of stating the obvious and running through our daily checklists! The last thing I want to point out was the starting line, I always put a lot of pressure on myself to make accurate time and distance calls and get the race clock just right, well the official timer of the games is Omega, so there was a massive digital clock counting down every second. I had seen this watching previous Olympic regattas, but it didn’t occur to me until I was on the starting line that I didn’t need to sync to flags or remember the order of the colored flags.
I had an amazing experience in Tokyo that I will carry with me forever, and the one thing that I know for sure is I am not finished yet. I knew this during our fifth day of racing, it’s something so distinct I felt in my gut that I have unfinished business and I absolutely love being an athlete and a sailor! I’ll finish with a quote I picked up in Tokyo, “Feel is who you are. It’s the way your heart beats, everyone’s heart beats a little different. Everyone has a little different feel. Feel is not something you find in a book, it’s something you find in what you do, whether it’s your instrument, your paintbrush, your pen, your boat… feel is being human.”