I grew up on the East coast and as a child I was pretty much always in or around the water!
Learning to sail soon became a way to cope with the bullying around my disability, and it gave me a sense of freedom and a “can do” attitude, but most of all it taught me a fierce independence that has stood me in good stead for all of my professional sailing career so far…
I learnt how to race from my parents who were strong competitors both taking their sailing beyond the club racing level. Dad was always a strong player on the Hornet and 505 circuits, and Mum turned her eyes to the Olympics, just narrowly missing out on selection to the 1988 Games in Korea.
On receiving a sports scholarship to the Royal Hospital School in Ipswich, sailing soon took over from other school sports as my main passion; taking me away from the school most weekends as I started to travel to International regattas. Luckily for me the school has a strong naval background, and with the appointment of Mike Hart to Head of Sailing, we soon took on the 29er, Laser 3000 and Laser radial and 4.7 racing circuits.
I went on to represent Great Britain at Youth and Junior level in World and European championships all around the world in the Mirror and 29er Classes.
At 13 years old, I became the youngest ever winner of the BT Young Sailor of the Year award for my achievements at the Mirror World Championships, as well as recognition of an advert filmed to encourage youngsters into sport that was shown on Carlton TV (later becoming ITV London). The award itself would open many doors for me, the first would see me meet Ellen MacArthur who would become a sportsperson that I would aspire to live up to. She gave me the opportunity to race with her aboard “Foncia Kingfisher” her trimaran during the Round the Island race and that would spark an interest in moving onto bigger more powerful yachts, and of course light the fire under me to one day compete in the Vendee Globe.
Aged just 15 I would get a phone call that changed my life and gave me a new direction- Andy Cassell, the Atlanta Gold medalist in the Sonar class gave me the offer that would open my eyes to disability sailing, and put me on the path to the Paralympics.
My views of Paralympic sailing at the time had me believing it was the weaker option; I was happy blasting around the world in my 29er, and was holding the mixed World Championship Title…
A weekend in Cowes training with Andy soon opened my eyes, and the rest as they say is history!
Having been selected for the Sonar Development Squad, I would spend the next 15 years working with Britain’s best sailors, coaches, and support staff and go on to win several World, European and National titles, across a number of different sailing disciplines including the Sonar, Skud, and the 29er.
Gaining an unconditional offer to Loughborough University to study Sport and Exercise Science was a welcome change of pace in 2003, but of course I was still forging a path towards the Paralympics in the background. Later that same year, my Team and I would go on to take the bronze medal at the World Championships, and that would be enough to see us selected above my childhood hero Andy Cassell and send me on my way to the Athens 2004 Games.
16 years later, and here we are in 2016, and a crossroads has appeared!
With sailing having been dropped from the Paralympics, I’ve turned my attentions to the “Reinstate Sailing to Tokyo 2024” Campaign. As part of a group of ex-sailors, lawyers and high level International Managers we have set up a group with the sole aim of working towards the sports reinstatement.
The rest of my time now is divided between taking on the new challenge of Paralympic javelin throwing, working on a Sports Development course for young learners and coaching and motivational speaking- I love to be busy!
Of course my other childhood dream remains strong and I have started working towards being the first disabled sailor to take on the Vendee Globe, with the aim of being on the start line for the 2020 edition.
Watch this space!