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College Sailing Spotlight: Columbia University

For Columbia University's sailors, being a part of the team is a huge commitment with lots of travel, but for them, it's all worth it.

May 12, 2016
columbia sailing team
The Columbia University sailing team gets in some practice tacks during spring break training. Courtesy of Columbia University

Although a university situated on the Upper West Side of Manhattan is an unlikely sailing school, the sailors at Columbia University prove they’re up to the task. These city-slicker Ivy Leaguers may be in one of the busiest cities in the world, but they are located on an island, after all, and commute five days a week in sailing season to City Island YC, in the Bronx. The facility is 40 minutes from campus in traffic.

“There are many days when we can sit in traffic on the Cross-Bronx Expressway for over an hour,” says Lauren Bednarz, head coach for the team. “The sailors deal with the commute well and know that getting time on the water is well worth the trip.”

During the season, the sailors are required to attend two practices and a chalk talk every week to be eligible for regattas. The team keeps its 12 FJs at the City Island facility. Sailing on Long Island Sound allows the sailors to practice in a variety of conditions.

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“If we get a breeze from the east, we expect shifty conditions. If we get a breeze from the south, it’s going to be heavy air and chop. You never know,” Bednarz explains.

When Bednarz learned of the coaching position at Columbia, she leaped at the opportunity, having regretted not sailing in college. (She was recruited for track and field at Manhattan College.)

“Something that really drew me to the program was the fact that Columbia is a club team and allows any student to join, regardless of sailing ability,” Bednarz says. “The dynamic of this team forces the sailors to work together and learn from each other.”

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Bednarz is studying for her master’s degree in physical education at Teachers College at Columbia, and she has been able to bring her education and experience to the sailing team’s training regime.

“For the offseason, I was able to construct a circuit training program that focused on targeting the whole body,” Bednarz explains. “The circuit mainly contains exercises that are body-weight bearing, to help students understand how to control their bodies in preparation for boathandling. On no-wind days, we have had fun putting workouts together on the dock that include hike-offs and buoy pulls.”

An officer board consisting of the captain, co-captain, secretary, treasurer, alumni chair, communications chair, merchandise chair and social chair runs the team, whose operations are voted on and approved by the board. One of the biggest events the team organizes is an annual winter fundraiser at New York YC.

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“This is truly an amazing event, as well as a great way to bring alumni and friends of the Columbia sailing team together,” Bednarz says. The Columbia sailors work hard to run their team alongside Bednarz, which requires a big time commitment, as in most college sailing teams. But Bednarz says it’s all worth it. “The Columbia sailing team has had their fair share of bumps in the road. However, they have never given up,” she says. “This is a resilient group of student sailors who have found their own unique place within this team. They have proven over time that they will persevere through any obstacle City Island throws at them and come out sailing stronger than ever.”

Editor’s note: as of April 2016, Lauren Bednarz is no longer the coach for the Columbia University Sailing Team

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