Sure, this is anonymous. The message, however, is not…
Remember the Dream Team? Remember when there were Americans on the American god damn America’s Cup team? Well that day is gone. Unless the game is doping like [insert asshole American athlete here] to come in an epic 10th place, the US totally sucks at international sports these days.
In North America’s only stop on the ISAF Sailing World Cup in Miami last week, the pile of shit got even bigger. If you were to look for Americans in the top 5, you will find them in exactly 2 fleets. Paige Railey has been kicking Radial ass for a while now and her 4th place performance is commendable in such an incredibly competitive fleet. The US’s only other top 5 finisher was the disabled triple handed Sonar team of Ricky Doerr, Hugh Freund and Brad Kendall, and the entire sport of disabled sailing just got the axe for the 2020 games in Tokyo. Great.
So what’s our problem? It’s obviously systemic because the story is the same in every other sport you look at. But when it comes to sailing, this sailor has a story for you.
My crew from San Francisco took 2nd in the triple-handed division at Disabled Nationals in Galveston, TX last year. Some context for the uninitiated: in the triple handed Sonar class under the alternate [disabled sailing] class rules, each crew member receives a classification number based on their disability, ranging from 1 – 7, and the boat must have 14 points or less while racing. As a below knee amputee, I get a 7 (but only if I sail without my prosthesis) because I am fairly able-bodied when it comes to functionality while sailing. Our helmsman is a quadriplegic and gets a 1, and our blind jib trimmer gets a 5 based on his visual impairment. You could call my blind guy / quad and raise me 2 para’s and still come in under 14 points. Think of it as PHRF for screwballs.
After we took 2nd, we decided we might as well try out the real deal in Miami. About 2 weeks before the regatta, plane tickets bought, hotel room reserved, charter boat paid for, we get the news that ISAF overturned our jib trimmer’s classification as a 5, making him a 7 and our regular crew now ineligible to compete. Annoying, but we roll deep here in SF and we pulled another one-legger from our racing crews (above knee amputee this time, so presumably 6 points, according to US Sailing) and now we are an even 14 points. We have an extra support crew on the ground who has also shelled out significant dollars to get down here, but at least we can race.
Can you guess what happens next? Mid-regatta, we get word from the ISAF classification committee that our 6 point amputee has just been reclassified as a 7. Are you kidding me?! Both of these guys paid US Sailing money to be properly classified by medical professionals, took our 2nd place finish in the Nationals to be something of value, paid US Sailing even more money to play the game in Miami, and were ultimately told by the international community that US Sailing has babied them into thinking they are more disabled than they are.
Notice that I am not upset at ISAF for this. The last night of the regatta in Miami at Shake-A-Leg (the launch facility for each Paralympic class) saw most of these hooligans double fisting beers with missing limbs, towing kegs behind wheelchairs and making a general ruckus of Coconut Grove. We don’t want anyone’s pity and we don’t want anyone’s handouts. We want to fucking sail fast with the support of our teammates and our country.
But in this country, we seem to be missing something. Everywhere else in the world, athletes get real support from their motherlands because, at a certain point, we decided that it mattered how we did in international sports. Here, we have now resorted to giving people false hopes about their ability to compete and hanging them out to dry when push comes to shove.
To close the story, we finished the regatta. We found a guy, Bill Canfield, from the USVI who was just reclassified from a 5 to a 6 to sail on our boat; no joke. His team last year had the same thing happen to them, making them ineligible to compete; no fucking joke. Bill is the father of Taylor Canfield, World Match Racing Champion and general bad-ass. Our San Francisco crew runs deep, but our adaptive sailing brethren across the country and the world form a network that is tough to beat.
To ISAF, please reinstate disabled sailing for the 2020 Paralympic Games. To US Sailing, please get your act together and get on the same page as the rest of the world. Support your sailors, if not with funding then at least with credible classification methodology like the rest of Planet Earth. To the US Olympic Committee, good fucking luck.