“Some day I will retire, but I will have a fleet of sailors behind me who will carry on the work!” Philippines sailor Cherrie Pinpin is a determined woman.
As one of nine sailors and five coaches to have just completed World Sailing’s first ever Asian Paralympic Development Program (PDP) clinic, she is even more resolute about spreading the word on sailing in her home country and among other Asian nations.
The PDP clinics are a vital part of World Sailing’s strategy to boost global participation in the sport and regain its Paralympic Games status, and the inaugural Asian event in Hong Kong (7-12 March) was the second such clinic to be held worldwide following on from a four-day camp in Argentina in January.
A 2008 Paralympian, Pinpin knows what the sport has to offer by way of physical and mental challenge and wants to share her learning and experiences more widely.
“I said that I would be very lonely if I was the only disabled sailor and that’s why we’ve really started searching for people who are not just willing to sail but who have enough grit and hunger in them to really compete. Because it doesn’t end at the ‘come and try’. It goes on.
“What I am discovering with a lot of the Filipino disabled is that a lot of people feel afraid – it’s a major challenge to them and I said to them ‘I’m sorry that I cannot make the conditions any easier. I had to fight my way and now it’s your turn.’
“Hopefully I can light the way a little bit.”
“I can speed through the seas as fast as anyone,” Pinpin continued. “I can’t do that on land because I’m on crutches and I’m an amputee.
“With sailing it’s not just speed, but you’ve got to think a lot. There’s the tactics and the matter of trying to see what the weather is up to, and trying to beat the fleet of other disabled people who are also very keen to win. It’s challenging!”
She concluded: “I want to spread the word about Paralympic development. I would like to grow my sailors and try to reach the other Asian nations who need a little bit of help.”
Held in conjunction with Sailability Hong Kong and the Hebe Haven Yacht Club, the Asian PDP clinic attracted attendees from four countries – the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand in addition to the host nation – with leading Australian Sonar coach Grant Alderson presiding over the training.
The six-day camp covered a huge array of topics, from on water coaching sessions in 2.4mR and Hansa 303s, to race and regatta management, equipment and communications.
Alderson, whose Sonar team were crowned Paralympic Champions in Rio, was positive of the learning experience it offered the sailors.
“Programs like this development camp are just fantastic because it just helps to build the awareness in some of the countries, helps to build the programs in some of the countries so that we can hopefully try and get sailing back into the Paralympics,” he explained.
“It’s just great to see disabled sailors getting out there and loving it. We’ve had sailors this week in a 2.4mR for the first time. They’ve only been sailing 303s or 2.3s and so we’ve had some really smiling faces and happy people just getting out there.”
“We’ve just been working on a few different things each day,” Alderson continued. “Boat-handling was one thing that we were looking at, another one was out starting techniques and then our racing techniques as well.
“We’ve been trying to cover a few different aspects of the racing side of things, just to help the sailors upskill themselves, and to help out the coaches that have come from the countries with them as well.”
“We’ve also run quite a few presentations and talks, and Massimo [Dighe] from World Sailing has been talking about equipment and venues and things that will help these countries develop their programs better. I’ve done boat-handling tactics, I’ve done tactics, communication – quite a few different things and we’ve really covered across the board everything that we can probably cover.
“We’ve had six days to do it, so that’s quite a good time, and we’ve been able to cover quite a few subjects which has really helped the sailors.
“It’s great to see that Paralympic sailing and disabled sailing is really still alive and we just need to keep building on it, and hopefully it will have a good future to it,” he concluded.
Massimo Dighe, Para World Sailing Manager and London 2012 Paralympian, added: “It’s been a great experience – some sailors here have only a little bit of experience of sailing and have maybe never sailed Paralympic equipment so it’s a big first step to increase the knowledge and the expansion of Paralympic sailing.
“I hope they will be the ambassadors for Paralympic sailing in their countries. I hope they will approach other people – able bodied and disabled people – and speak about the inclusive sport for everyone and they attract other people to try our sport.”
The next PDP clinic will be held in Gydnia (POL) in July just prior to the European Championships, with another in Marseilles (FRA) scheduled for October which will also welcome sailors from North Africa.