Sailing team uses passion, hard work to drive success

Hard work and determination are key factors to being a successful athlete in any sport. Most college athletes at any school come in with extensive experience in the sport they want to play and know the rules of the game. For students on the RWU sailing team, it’s pretty much like learning a whole new sport.

According to Head Coach Amanda Callahan, even though it’s helpful to have people come in with a high level of regular sailing experience, it can still be an extremely challenging transition.

“It’s a very different game that we play,” she said.

The Hawks compete in the New England Intercollegiate Sailing Association (NEISA), which is made up of some of the most talented teams in the country. RWU must hold their own against teams in Florida and other warmer states, who get to practice on the water year-round.

The Hawks compete in both a fall and spring season, which means there is no off-season for the Hawks. They start on the water as soon as classes begin, and go all the way until November. In December, January and some of February, the Hawks take a break from sailing because of the cold weather. But they start back up on the water in mid-February — still a frigid time of the year on RWU’s windy campus.

“We compete against teams in Florida and they’re happy to be sailing year-round, whereas we wouldn’t be as happy to be sailing year-round,” said Callahan. “But we want to be competitive with them so we go sailing in some colder times of the year.”

Even though the sailing team isn’t on the water now, they use that time in the gym and do a lot of classroom work. This includes watching practice videos and talking about the rules of sailing more in-depth.

The fall season for the Hawks just ended and Callahan said that it went much better than expected.

“We graduated eight seniors last year including six starters so I expected a decent amount of rebuilding,” said Callahan. “We needed to have a strong freshman class which we [had] and some of our returning sailors really stepped up in a big way this fall.”

RWU sailing took fourth place at the NEISA Championship on Oct. 27 and 28, with seniors Conner Harding and Jennifer Agell earning four wins and three runner-up finishes during the regatta. Coach Callahan said this was one of her proudest moments of the season.

Looking forward, she noted that getting the freshmen on the team more experience on the water will be a key part of a successful spring season.

“We have a big experience shortage and you need to have a lot of experience in team racing to be good at it, you need a lot of reps,” she said. “We have to overcome that and I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do that to be honest, but that’s what we’re working on.”

Senior skipper Kelsey Shakin has been working with the freshmen on the team to help them improve their skills. With a major in marine biology, a minor in public health and a core in anthropology and sociology, she has a heavily loaded schedule.

For her, being on the water after a long day of classes is one of the best parts.

“You can go out and it’s just so beautiful sailing under the bridge,” said Shakin. “It’s kind of decompressing.”

She has been sailing since she was 7 years old and said that one of her favorite parts about sailing in college is the teamwork aspect, and getting excited when the team does well.

“Winning is a great feeling, but seeing our efforts turn into something is the best feeling ever,” said Shakin.

The senior captain also mentioned how important it is to be in great shape for sailing. When it’s windy on the water, it is critical to be able to keep the boat flat. The team has monthly fitness tests which includes a two-mile run, push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups. Each person must complete as many push-ups and sit-ups as they can in two minutes, and max out on pull-ups. Coach Callahan sets a bar, and each team member is expected to meet it.

“The strongest people are the ones who are going to do well, or the people who have the most stamina,” said Shakin. “Amanda [Callahan] puts fitness as one of the main goals of our team because if you’re not fit, you really can’t hold your own out there.”

Callahan also mentioned sailing is especially challenging because it is just as much an academic sport as it is physical.

“I think one of the awesome things about sailing is that you can play the sport your entire life but you’re always learning something new,” said Callahan. “You can just always take in more information.”

According to Callahan, the most important quality for a sailor to have is passion.

“I think that drives all of the other things that we need to do. That drives dedication, that drives hard work,” she said. “If you want to get better at sailing, it’s driven by your passion for the sport.”

Freshman skipper Jaqueline Frode agrees. She came to RWU from Nassau, Bahamas, and, like Callahan and Shakin, said the most important thing to have is commitment and love for the sport.

“Sportsmanship is huge,” she added. “You sail with the same people every single weekend and you spend four years with these people. You have to be able to have good sportsmanship and just get along with them.”

Callahan said that the team’s goal every year is to compete at the highest level of college sailing.

“We require that the effort, consistency, commitment of time, all of that matches with the idea that we’re going to be competing at the highest level of college sailing,” she said. “We work hard to get there.”