As I sat in NBC’s narration booth with Randy Smyth, commentating on the Olympic sailing competition, it dawned on me that eight of the 15 American sailors competing in Rio de Janeiro were past Junior All-Stars. Youth sailing in the United States remains vibrant. There are hundreds of strong junior sailing programs, and thousands of young sailors are dedicated to improving their racing skills. I’ve learned that the ultimate goal for many of these aspiring sailors is to reach the Olympics. This aim was expressed to me in interviews over the years by our current Olympians, including Paige Railey, Charlie Buckingham, Annie Haeger, Briana Provancha, Caleb Paine, Paris Henken, Thomas Barrows and Joe Morris.
It has been great fun watching all of these Olympians reach their goals. For most athletes, it takes many years to fulfill their dreams, so with this in mind, I interviewed our new group of Junior All-Stars with an eye toward their futures.
Ashton Borcherding, 17, from Greenwich, Connecticut, says: “All of my teammates I have sailed with, or against, over the past couple of years have become my closest friends. They not only push and help me to grow on the water, but off it as well. I wouldn’t be the same person or sailor I am today without them.”
An International 420 sailor, Borcherding was second overall and top female in the I-420 Youth Champs with Kathryn Hall, from Haverford, Pennsylvania. In addition to sailing, Borcherding plays varsity squash at Greenwich Academy.
When asked about parallels between squash and sailing, she says: “Most people haven’t heard of either sport much, so I spend a lot of time explaining the details to people. They both require training for most of the year, since there isn’t really an offseason. You get to know everybody within each sport, and cool people from different cultures.”
In sailing, Borcherding is consistently near the front of the fleet. In 2015, she finished fourth in the Orange Bowl (top female), and was fourth in the 2016 420 North Americans (top female). As a high school junior, she is looking to join a college sailing team in 2018.
Leo Boucher, 16, sails out of the West River Sailing Club in Galesville, Maryland, and is very enthusiastic about being part of US Sailing’s Olympic Development Program. “The program helps good sailors get better,” he says. “I met [2008 Olympic gold medalist] Anna Tunnicliffe, and she taught me the importance of being in good shape for the Laser Radial. She is great. Coach Leandro Spina is also a big help.”
He says his dad, Ken Boucher, gives him inspiration: “My dad tells me life is about the journey, not the destination. I enjoy sailing and competing. You don’t always have to win, to win.”
Boucher is focused on singlehanded sailing, and over the past year, he won the Laser Radial Atlantic Coast Champs and the Orange Bowl, and placed second in the U.S. Youth Championship, third in the North Americans, and fourth in the Cressy High School Singlehanded Championship. He provides a long list of accomplished sailors who have guided him, including Kyle Rogachenko, Clay Johnson and Cole Allsopp. He got his start in the Optimist class and shifted to the Laser Radial when he turned 12.
When not sailing, Boucher runs on the track team. “I like track because, like sailing, you need to be disciplined to win,” he says. “When I’m running, I try to beat a time. When I’m sailing, I know if I’m going fast or not. Speed is the key in both sports.”
Blaire McCarthy, 16, from St. Petersburg, Florida, is a versatile sailor who has raced Optimists, 420s, Lasers, 29ers, J/24s, J/70s, Melges 20s, Etchells and even a FarEast 28R. She also finds time to crew on deliveries for offshore racing boats. McCarthy was the top junior at US Sailing’s Championship of Champions (in the Sunfish) in 2016, and finished sixth of 19 boats. She credits St. Petersburg YC sailing director Todd Fedyszyn and Sturgis Boat Works owner Matt Wake for their mentoring.
She was a goalie on her high school lacrosse team, but as sailing opportunities came along, she chose to pursue those goals. “Being a goalie, like a sailor, there is a lot of pressure on the individual,” she says. “You have to be fully responsible for your performance and results.”
In 2016, McCarthy won the Laser 4.7 Nationals for the second year in a row. At Quantum Key West Race Week, she was steering a FarEast 28R downwind in 18 knots of breeze, and she asked Fedyszyn to hold her by the life jacket so she had enough leverage to control the tiller in the big waves. She laughs and says: “By the end of the race, I was sitting on Todd’s lap as he had one arm wrapped around me and the other around the lifeline. I had to swallow some pride, but we had a great race, finishing second, earning us the Sailing World Youth Trophy.”
Cate Mollerus, 17, of Larchmont, New York, crews on a 29er with skipper Louisa Nordstrom, of Osprey, Florida. Together they qualified for the World Sailing Youth Championship in New Zealand.
“We worked really hard together to learn to race the new boat, and [Nordstrom] made me a better crew and better partner,” says Mollerus. She started by sailing Optimists, but says: “I hated it initially, but when I was 12, my best friend wanted me to crew for her in a Club 420. From there, I really got into the competitive nature of the sport. I then moved on to a racing team when I was 14.” When not sailing, she plays varsity field hockey and is captain of her high school team. Mollerus plans to attend Yale University in the fall and will try out for sailing. “I’ve never been on a formal sailing team, so I’m looking forward to adding the team aspect to my sailing experience,” she says. “It will be a new challenge.”
Mollerus credits her family for supporting her: “My parents are always there to give me a hand and to give me a big high-five when I get off the water,” she says, “regardless of whether I win or lose.”
Jack Parkin, 18, of the Riverside YC in Greenwich, Connecticut, often serves as a crew for Wiley Rogers in the 420 and 470, but frequently spends time at the helm too. Parkin finished third at the U.S. Youth Match Racing Championship. In the highly competitive 470 class at the Sailing World Cup Miami last year, Parkin and Rogers finished 16th against many of the top international Olympic crews. The duo won the Club 420 Midwinters; the 420 class at Kiel Week, in Kiel, Germany, for the second year in a row; and the 420 U.S. Youth Championships. They placed second in the 420 Worlds. Parkin is expected to join Stanford University’s sailing team in the fall of 2017.
When not sailing, he competes on the Brunswick School cross-country team. “Cross-country is great fitness training for sailing,” he says. “Both [races] tend to be about 18 minutes in length and have the same demand for endurance.” His immediate goal is to earn a berth for the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.
Sophia Reineke, 18, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, follows in the footsteps of older sister Erika, who is a past Junior All-Star and All-American sailor for the Boston College Eagles. The younger Reineke plans to attend BC in the fall and is grateful for her sister’s help. “Erika does have a huge influence on me,” she says, “as she is my biggest inspiration. I am super excited to go to Boston College. I look forward to taking my sailing there to the next level.”
She will start college sailing with a strong foundation. In the past year, Reineke won the Radial division at the U.S. High School Singlehanded Nationals, placed fourth at the U.S. Youth Champs (top female), and placed fourth at the Laser Radial Youth Worlds in Ireland. She races with the St. Thomas Aquinas High School sailing team. Reineke and her crew Brian Buckley are co-captains of the team.
About Buckley, Reineke says: “He is one of the most beneficial people in my sailing career because of his calming demeanor. I can be tense, but he makes sailing more fun. When the wind is light, I sail with Libby Redman. She is new to sailing this year and picked up being a crew very quickly.
“My coach, Arthur Blodgett, my parents and my friends all go out of their way to make sure I succeed,” she adds. “This is by far the coolest part [of sailing].”
Wiley Rogers, 17, races out of Texas Corinthian YC in Kemah, Texas, and the Lakewood YC in Seabrook, Texas. He began sailing at 5 years old in the Optimist. Rogers and Jack Parkin have had an incredible year in the 420 and 470, but Rogers frequently races a J/70 and M32 as well. He credits his father, Yandell Rogers, and his coach, Steve Keen, for his development as a sailor.
At this writing, Rogers plans to attend college but has not settled on a school. His long-term ambition is to race in the Olympics in the 470.
“I hope to have Jack right next to me in the pursuit of this dream,” he says. When asked about any embarrassing moments he has experienced on the water, he confesses to a few “pretty epic wipeouts.”
Gannon Troutman, 14, of Gloucester, Virginia, sails out of the Fishing Bay YC. He has taken a different path than most young sailors.
Troutman is home-schooled, though he plans to attend high school next year. He does not play any other organized sports but is an enthusiastic skateboarder. Unfortunately, Troutman broke his arm trying out a skateboard when he was in San Diego for the 2016 J/70 North Americans. “I could still sail, but I let my team down,” he says. “It was embarrassing admitting to everyone that I wiped out on my skateboard.”
Troutman races a Laser Radial and is a regular skipper on the J/70 circuit. His team’s best finish was at Charleston Race Week, where they finished second overall, and at the J/70 Worlds in 2016, he won a race. Of the experience, Troutman says: “I have met a lot of world-class sailors. Many of them have offered me advice and encouragement.”
He was also in the top third of the J/70 fleet at Quantum Key West, Miami Bacardi Race Week, the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta in Annapolis, and the Rolex Big Boat Series in San Francisco. Long-term, he hopes to compete in long-distance races like the Volvo Ocean Race and the Transpac.