For Scandone, There's One Clear Mission

In this extended online interview, Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Nick Scandone talks about his plans for the 2008 Paralympic Games.

At the Rolex Yachtsman of the Year luncheon in February, Nick Scandone paused to take a deep breath before turning to Olympic 470 gold medalists Paul Foerster and Kevin Burnham, standing to his left. The pause had the double effect of allowing him to catch his breath and to punctuate his closing statement. "I may not live to make it to the Olympics and win the gold like you guys," he said to the pair. "And if I don't, then this is my medal." At the root of Scandone's uncertainty is the unpredictable nature of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, the neurodegenerative disease that is progressively weakening his muscles, which has the 39-year-old 2.4 Meter world champion from Fountain Valley, Calif., wondering whether he'll have the strength to stay at the top of his game long enough to see action in the 2008 Paralympic Games. Today, he says, all he can do is look ahead. I imagine your Rolex selection has changed things a bit. Yeah, everyone keeps asking me for the time. It's been a little funny being recognized as much as I have been because, for the most part, you don't see that in sailing. What's happening on the 2.4 Meter campaign trail? I have a new boat on order, and I'm supposed to pick it up before the Worlds in Helsinki, Finland, this summer. But due to my progression I'm getting a self-tacking jib boom, which I haven't had to use in the past. Is it disappointing to have use one? Yeah, it does put a little emphasis on the fact that I'm not getting any stronger, and that my physical limitations are affecting what may happen in the future. How do you anticipate your status for the Olympics three years from now? I'm in a situation where I'm leaving my options open to go into the two-person boat they've designated for the Olympics. It's a different type of boat and the main requirement is that you sail with one woman, and that one person be what they consider severely or very severely disabled. The way the disabled sailing classification works is they rank you from 1 to 7, with being the least disabled and 1 being the most severely disabled. With the new boat, one person has to be either a 1 or a 2, and the other can be as high as a 7. I'm trying to keep my options open because if I start losing [2.4 Meter] races or events because of my physical limitations then it might be time to look into the secondary class. My goal is to get to Beijing, represent the country, and win a medal, and I don't care what boat I do it in. Where do you fall in that range now? When I went to Miami in 2004 and sailed my first disabled event I was considered a 7, and then the next year I was a 3. When they test you for reclassification, it's a bit depressing because I'm not like a paraplegic where the number stays the same. It can be hard, mentally, to slide down the scale, but I'm going with the flow and enjoying the time I have to continue to sail competitively. Were your formative years in dinghies? I grew up in the Naples Sabot, and when I got into college I sailed FJs and Lidos 14s [He was an All-American at UC Irvine]. Then I started sailing the 470 with Chris Raab, but I had the typical issues with raising money and ended up hooking up with another guy that had a new boat and funding in line. We won the North Americans, but we had a falling out and didn't win the Olympic Trials. That's one of the reasons I'm hesitant to go to the two-person [paralympic] boat. It's a situation where you're dealing with another personality and it becomes a team thing rather than an individual thing. Are you hard to sail with? No, not at all, but I guess I have a concern that I have only one shot and I want to make sure it counts. First of all, you have to find a good woman sailor that's also disabled, and there aren't many out there, and I'm the one that's going to be closer to the 1, so I'd need a woman that was classified as a 6 or a 7, and the only ones that I know of in the disabled sailing scene today are 1s or 2s. What are your strengths? I pride myself on being able to sail any type of boat well. Over the years I've put my time in. There's nothing that can replace experience, and that's one of advantages I have over most disabled sailors, in that many didn't grow up sailing dinghies and traveling around to do it, some of them got into sailing after they were disabled or were disabled and sailed for a long time, but very few I know actually went through junior programs, and college sailing, and the you only get better with the time you put in. As I got older sailing became a pleasure, and I chose to do it because I like the small, tightly knit sailing community. After missing the Trials I got out of campaigning and got a real job. This is when I did my sailing on the other peoples boats. I was diagnosed in April 2000 and continued to work for a year or so, not sailing much. In 2004 I heard about disabled sailing and looked into it. I went to the US SAILING website and learned about the Miami OCR. I was encouraged to go, so I did for the enjoyment and did very well-finishing third of 20-and the only disabled guy to that beat me was the guy going to the Olympics. Later, I won my first totally disabled event in Chicago. Within a year I'd done a bunch of events, won the 2.4 Meter Worlds, got on the sailing team, and won a Rolex. It's been quite a ride. The most interesting thing about disabled sailing is that they still have to trim the sails properly, start properly, and make smooth tacks. In the 2.4, the able bodied sailors have little advantage to getting around the racecourse. This sport allows that and it's one of the most satisfying things a disabled person can have-a sport that hey can compete against able bodied and beat them. What makes you such a good natural sailor? I pride myself on being able to sail any type of boat well. There's nothing that can replace experience and that's one of advantages I have over most disabled sailors, in that many didn't grow up sailing dinghies and traveling around to do it. Some of them got into sailing after they were disabled, or were disabled and sailed for a long time, but very few I know actually went through junior programs, and college sailing, and you only get better with the time you put in. One thing that I know for sure having been in this scene is that a lot of disabled sailors are really good sailors. The boats physically challenging in that you don't have to hike or get on the wire, but you still have to trim the sails properly, start properly, and make smooth tacks. With the 2.4, for example, able-bodied sailors have little advantage, and that's what most satisfying about this sport. Disabled sailors can compete against able-bodied and beat them.