Diana Weidenbacker has been a staple in the University of New Hampshire sailing program for more than 20 years. She started out as a volunteer, became the assistant sailing coach, and is now head coach and director of the UNH Community Sailing Center. Her commitment to the university, its sailing program, and the community illustrate her dedication to the Wildcats.
“It’s the most wonderful group of kids; I absolutely love working with them,” Weidenbacker says. “It’s a privilege every single day. The university supports us as much as they can, and we provide volunteer, leadership and community opportunities. I love what I do. I would not trade it for the world.”
UNH is located 20 minutes from the ocean, one hour from Boston, and one and a half hours from some of the best ski slopes in the Northeast, and has a stunning campus. UNH boasts one of the largest club sports programs in the country, with 30 clubs including the sailing team. There has been a sailing program, off and on, since 1936 and consistently since the early to mid-1970s.
Weidenbacker has a system in place, and the first thing elected team officials do before running a meeting is take a workshop with her immediately following the school’s winter break. “It’s an all-day event, and it’s a combination of exploring what their roles are, what their personal goals are for leadership, and forming a cohesive team between all of the officers,” Weidenbacker says. “The expectation is that you are able to rely on other people to help you out, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed with academics, sailing and social activities. Sometimes, you need to delegate.”
Weidenbacker sees the benefits of being part of the sailing team fits. “Students have an opportunity, when they come to college, to experience and explore different types of leadership options,” she says. “Those opportunities can go on a resume.”
Students who graduate from UNH having had a leadership role on the team, she says, remember that the most. “They remember more about managing a budget, scheduling vehicles and hotel rooms, helping to plan for who is going to sail where, and disciplinary issues. As a result, they apply those skills in a real-world situation or at work.”
Officers are responsible for fundraising and recruiting. There is limited funding, so the students raise the majority of the resources. The community sailing center offers summer programs, which allows the team to raise money that goes back into the team.
The facility has no electricity or running water. It is located on Mendums Pond, where there is no public access, and most of the boats that get out on the water are sailboats. Typical conditions are light to medium winds and very shifty. The team has a few Lightnings and 18 Zim FJs.
In 2010, the team suffered a great loss when their boathouse, along with all of their boats and equipment, burned to the ground, but in less than a year, the team was able to raise $80,000.
“We raised and paid for 18 new FJs, and that’s because we have such a strong community program and supportive alumni base and sailing community around us,” says Weidenbacker. “People across the country came together to help us out. It was like starting over again. It’s a slower process than you’d think to build the team with quantity and then skills with quality. Now it seems like the commitment is there, and the team is focused on improving our rankings.”