Monday, October 15, 2007

Olympic Quest of Victory and Failure

The Olympic Trials attract many types of sailors; those who are ready to fight for the gold, those who are almost ready, those who have just begun the journey; and then, those who take it as a personal challenge do the best that they can, all the while having the time of their lives. As stated in the Olympic Creed; "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well." To all the sailors, participants, competitors, families, friends, volunteers, and those of you have touched our lives along the way CONGRATULATIONS, and THANK YOU for allowing us to chase our dreams and make this journey possible.

Yesterday, eleven Olympic sailing classes concluded their Olympic Trials with each class having one "winner" who will have the honor and the incredible challenge of representing the United States of America in the 2008 Olympic Games. On October 3, thirteen RSX Windsurfers, six women and seven men, came to Long Beach, CA to participate in the Olympic Trials. Each of us had dreams, hopes, and prayers of what would happen over the next twelve days. No one had any idea that the competition would be too close to call even on the last day, or the last race. Or that after all the racing was done, we would all be sitting there waiting and waiting for the results of several protests. The emotions ran from clear happiness, joy, accomplishment, pride to heartbreak, anger, and disappointment as we waited; and then saw the overwhelming emotional responses of the competitors from the final results.

In the final race for the women's fleet, the number one spot was in contention between Nancy Rios and Farrah Hall. Nancy had to come in second or third to secure her spot as our next Olympic hopeful. The wind was up which favors Farrah's height, weight, and expertise. Whereas Nancy is a master of light wind, who many believe is the ideal candidate for China's conditions with 2 knots of wind and 2 knots of current expected.

Our class flag is up, 5 minutes to the start and every one is on edge, this is it. 5, 4...1...Go! Monica started port thinking that she would be lifted and would be able to sail across and ahead of the rest of the fleet. The rest of us started on starboard with the right of way, headed right towards her in planing conditions. The gap keeps narrowing, Monica keeps going, screams of protest of right away, and then the crashes and falls. Farrah halts but is able to keep going. Nancy's sail is entangled with Monica's but somehow she does not fall. Nancy's sail was torn, but she had to keep going to fight for her spot. Lisa who is right behind, falls to avoid the crash and I stopped planing but was able to duck under. Only Karen was able to escape but was slowed by amazement of what just unfolded. The Finish line: 1)Farrah, 2)Karen, 3)Lisa 4)Nancy .....on the scoreboard without protests, Farrah is one point ahead of Nancy and maybe is the one going to the Olympics. Then there was celebration and tears....

Farrah believed she was going, and Nancy's world collapsed around her as she filed a protest. In the world of sailing rules, if something happens to a sailor or a sailor's rig that was not her fault, giving the sailor an unfair disadvantage throughout the race, she can protest and receive a redress. A redress implies that instead of taking the place the sailor earned in that race her score will be changed to the average of all her races. This would change Nancy score to second place, giving her the Olympic spot. Then we waited as our hearts went out to both competitors ...who like all of us took a journey to get here filled with sacrifices, joys, disappointments, tears, hopes, and dreams. Who could have imagined the end would be determined in a boardroom. We waited.....

One of many challenges of competition is knowing how to win and how to lose. As stated in the Olympic creed, it is not only triumph that defines your life, but how you choose to handle disappointments and failure. The real challenge in life is to handle both success and failure with grace and to respect each as part of the journey. As we waited we knew both women would have huge challenges ahead of them. Then the results....tears turned to tears of joy and celebration turned to heartbreak. Nancy had won. Farrah was in second place.

Then the boys..... as the saying goes "boys will be boys." The Dogfight between Gebi and Ben both on and off the water throughout the Olympic Trials should go down as one of the most insane and intense fights. They both came to fight and came to win. Each day one would think that the intensity and the stakes could not get any higher but then the inevitable would happen once again. We all watched in amazement. The number of protest were unbelievable, and I would not be surprised if more protests are still being filed. As you can imagine, we all have a story but each with a different perspective. Overall, each man gave it their all, and tried their best but only one goes....that man is Ben!Congratulations to both Ben and Nancy! And congratulations to everyone who participated. It has been an incredible event with many surprises, laughs, and tears. For many of us it is only the beginning of the journey, and for all of us it will forever be a part of our lives. Congratulations to all of the RSX competitors: Nancy, Farrah, Monica, Lisa, Karen, Ben, Gebi, Bob, Jimmy, Ryan, Mark and Eric. It has been an honor to be here. I'm proud of each and every one of you. Thank you.

Final Regatta Results

Thank you to all of you that have followed along the journey. I hope to keep you posted on the continued journey for the 2008 Olympics. The women still have to earn a spot at the Olympics. A lot of the girls plan to train with Nancy and push her to be the best she can be. One woman has to qualify the U.S. for the 2008 Games at the Worlds this January in New Zealand in order to provide Nancy with opportunity that she has earned here. We all know she can do it. There is still a lot training and hard work ahead for all of us. Then, there is the question of the 2012 Olympic Games...
Thank you for your support. Keep checking the blog out for more of the journey to come....

Denise Parris, USA 235

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Too close to call

The quest for the Olympic spots continues to the last day. In both the men's and women's RSX fleets the medal race is extremely close. Too close to call. As we say the day before, anything can happen. Both Nancy Rios and Ben Barger are sitting in the number one spot going into the last day of racing. Once again, yesterday was marginal conditions. Check out this water....
Yes, as you can image I was thinking, Where is my wakeboard? The water was a mirror image. Not even a ripple, but there was 6 knots of wind. We were all waiting for the monster under the great blue sea to emerge. Get ready to pump. After 6 days of pumping, what's another? My feet are raw and my hands are not far behind. It's only a 30 minute race which sounds short until you realize that you have to pump the whole time. Today both Nancy and Ben both pumped their hearts out, earning first places in Race 1 and Race 2. I pumped my heart out too. To secure once again my position of bringing in the pack, making sure that if they ever do stop pumping someone is coming right behind them. Each and every competitor is giving it their best effort. On some you can see the toll of an 8 day Regatta which seems more more like a Marathon everyday. Whereas, others are just beginning to peak and fight even harder.

Official Race Results

The day before I earned a TLE due to taking an extra lap. The boys had to do 3 and the girls had to do 2 laps. Oops! I guess, I was just wishing I was on a 9.5 and planing instead of pumping. It was a great practice lap with strong lay lines and solid mark roundings. As I was pumping downwind the last time, my arms felt the burn as I realized all my competitors and mates where resting in the water waiting. Isn't it nice that I gave them such a long recovery period? Last night, for our final meal before one last day of racing we went to Port O'Call in Long Beach. Here is Nancy's meal for a champion....Yes, she ate it all. We had a great night with some good laughs...
As my dad found out raw oysters should not be part of his championship dinner. I would like to say thank you to all the parents, family, friends, coaches, and volunteers who have made it possible for each of us to experience our dream. Just getting here was a journey in itself and the experience is priceless. Thank you...

Denise Parris, USA 235

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sportsmanship Award

Goes to Eric Rahnenfuerher, Sail #136.

Yesterday was nothing like groundhog day. Everyday of racing the dog fight has been between the two top men, Gebi and Ben, both on and off the water. In light winds in the first race, Gebi wins and Ben gets second. Then the wind picks up slightly, Ben wins and Gebi gets second. At end of the day the scores are even again. One can see the intensity and the pressure increased exponentially as each man realized with only six races left, today was the day that the lead needed to be taken. No one could have imagined the drama that unfolded in the first race, but everyone can recognize that who came out on top had the odds stacked against him.

One minute left, 30 seconds, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 the boys are off. But, wait.... Ben is coming in lee (downwind) of Gebi at the pin end of start line. Slowly Ben is pinching Gebi off and heading upwind at a higher angle. Gebi does not stop but keeps going instead of tacking or ducking behind to give Ben the right away he has earned. They both keep going, fighting it out until something has to give. Gebi pushes Ben into the pin end, and Ben falls off his board. PROTEST: This is not supposed to be a contact sport. Gebi does his 360 in acknowledgment of the protest, and Ben gets up. They are off again, and Ben starts pulling away. Now, it is the last upwind mark rounding, Bob and Ben are in the lead about to round the mark at the same time. Ben is being lifted coming into the mark on port side and just below him is Bob coming in on starboard, who by sailing rules has the right away. Ben has plenty of room to cross in front of Bob but then the puff of wind he was riding dropped and so did his boatspeed causing the gap between them to narrow. Then, the crash..... Bob hits Ben. Ben is in the water a second time. Ben gets back on his broken board and earns second as Gebi comes in 3rd.

Ben's board had a huge hole in the side of it, and was impossible to repair on the water with one more race to go. This is where Eric saves the day. Due to destruction to Ben's board and being approximately 2 miles from the dock of the yacht club, the judges approved Ben to use Eric's board. If it was not for Eric, Ben's Olympic Dream would have been shattered right then and there. Thank you Eric for your sportsmanship. On a board the he'd never sailed before, Ben went out and sailed his heart out. He came in second as Gebi came in 3rd. As you can imagine there were protests all over the place. But, in the end, Ben came out on top, leading on the scoreboard.

Official Race Results
This photo does not do the dog fight between the boys justice, but you can see they all want it and want it bad. We still have four more races left. Ben has to stay up all night to repair his board. As you can imagine his adrenaline and dreams for his spot in the Olympic Games would make it hard for him to sleep anyways. So, I guess he at least has something to keep busy with. It's going to be an exciting last couple of races.

Denise Parris, USA 235

Friday, October 12, 2007

Water Chess

5, 4,1, Blast off! is the starting sequence. The two biggest rules on the starting line are to get clear air and to pump your heart out. The start is where the chess game of all sailboat racing begins. On the start, you can see the confidence of the skipper as she dances with the wind in a small area surrounded by the committee boat (one end line of start line) and all the other competitors. Note: the other end of the start line is called the pin end and is always to left of the committee boat. Everyone jockeys for what they perceive as a favored position. Most of the time hugging the committee boat trying to get as close as they can without hitting it, or getting caught in its wind shadow. Once you have your ideal position you have to defend it just like you defend your king and your queen. A lot can happen in 5 minutes. Then the flag goes down, the whistle blows and you need to be crossing that start line with boat speed at that very moment.
In the mental game of sailing, a good start or bad start can set the tone of the race for a skipper. Staying mentally focused at each and every leg of the course for the duration of the (roughly 30 minute) race is incredibly challenging. As stated before, racing a good race has do with limiting the SS (Skipper Stupidity) Factor. But, really one of the biggest challenges is to be able to make a mistake and to keep going, focusing on the next task at hand instead of the mistake. One check (one mistake) doesn't mean you've lost, it just means you have less room for error, so now it's really time to focus. A skipper has to believe that they can do each move perfectly just as they have practiced a 1,000 times. As the pawns (wind and other competitors) move positions, a skipper needs to constantly examine her game plan, explore risk, and choose the best possible course. This chess game is one of the many things I love about racing.

Official Race Results

Hopefully, the pawns and the stars will be in my favor. I'm ready to make a checkmate or two...

Denise Parris, USA 235

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ready set Go!

As you can imagine, when you are getting ready to go out on the water there are always a few last things that need to be done and final touches. It seems you never have the right tools, and are running around at the mercy of your competitors or are left to your own creative measures. This is a story that many windsurfers and competitors of all backgrounds can relate to. It's time to go and you have just enough time to make one final check before hitting the water, ice, slopes, etc... And then the unexpected but yet the reality that something is wrong and you have little time if any to fix it. This is the moment that competitive sportsmanship can shine and creative mastery can reach amazing limits or bottoms.

In the last of day of racing, Jimmy found himself in this predicament. As he was about to launch his windsurfer he realized one of his battens had broken, with only half an hour to get to the starting line. Now, many of you would think that the battens would come pre-cut to fit the one design Olympic sail, but no. That would just make it too easy. Could you image how many people would be on that starting line if this was easy? I wish I could have seen what Jimmy did next. I hope one day you will get to meet him in person to hear the story yourself. I am afraid I just could not do it justice. As one competitor's mom watched in amazement, she ran to her daughter's tool box, which has now become the community savior, to once again save the day.
An official Olympic RSX Windsurfer Racer needs 3 things: A permanent marker, number 3 screw driver, and a hack saw. As you can see in the photo Jimmy is now set. To play.
After a great dinner together and a day off we are all ready to hit the water again. Looking forward to another beautiful day on the water. I am sure there will be many more stories to come.

Denise Parris, USA 235

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rest Day. Relax, Recover, Recharge

Rest Day. Relax, Recover, Recharge is a chant I kept saying to myself over and over again yesterday on the water.

I am not sure if it was my secret wind dance or all your prayers for wind that woke up the Wind Gods. Yesterday, for the first time, the wind was perfect for the first race. At two minutes left in the starting sequence (out of five minutes), I got a large piece of seaweed stuck on my fin. I slowly tacked in an attempt to release it from my fin. A tack is a turning maneuver where the boat turns its bow through the wind and if done slowly the board slightly drifts backwards or sideways. It did not come off. Frustrated, I tacked again exaggerating the movement only to lose my balance in the sea swell and fell in. Less than one minute left to start. I took a deep breath and told myself, you can do this you have plenty of time.....and then I fell again. The other girls were off.

What happened? I fell and my board capsized with the mast pointing straight down. I could not turn it over. I fought, swam, pulled, pushed, kicked, and then slowly I got into a position to turn it over. Meanwhile I was breaking all the hearts of the committee boat and judges as I drifted downwind. The cold and the fatigue of the last 3 days of sailing started to set in. This was the wind I was dreaming of all week and now.... The frustration was overwhelming. I chanted, "Relax, Recover, Recharge." Instead of winning the race I became determined to at least cross the starting line. As I had to sail behind the committee boat towards the harbor, everyone thought I was going in. Everyone except my mom, who knew my level of determination can at times borderline insanity. Yes, I crossed the starting line just as everyone else was doing their first downwind leg. I finished last but I rounded the course 3 times and had a blast once I was going fast. I was exhausted. Every inch of my body wanted to retire and go in but we had one more race to go.

Then, even though with all the chop and swell it looked really windy, the wind dropped back down to 10 knots. Not enough wind to plane at high angles upwind but enough to work your heart out in order to pump/surf/plane your way downwind. Out of pure determination and will I went for it but I was out of energy. The four day marathon of racing is over. Today is a rest day before we start all over again on Thursday. Four more days of racing. Looking forward to a day off, but at the same time I can not wait to get back on the race course. I have learned so much and in such a short amount of time my sailing has improved dramatically. It has been an amazing experience. I am really proud of everyone. Each one of us is becoming a better sailor everyday.

Official Race Results

I would really like to give a shout out to Jimmy, on the RSX men's fleet, who turns 18 today. Happy Birthday! Lots of smiles, cheers, and wishes.

Denise Parris, USA 235

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Have a Wind Dance that works?

Girls just want to have fun! Yesterday was a blast. Karen and I really pushed each other throughout each race. We kept jockeying for position with tactical decisions, boat speed, and sometimes a little luck. There was a part of the race that we were with the boys and it actually felt like sailing in a real fleet. Tons of fun.

In the end of both races I made small but critical tactical mistakes, and Karen with her years of experience pulled ahead. Oh, and the other girls. Well, once again it was light conditions and as we pumped they planed. It is really close between the top four women, Lisa, Nancy, Farrah, and Monica. They are all sailing their hearts out in the light wind, but both Karen and I can attest that we are the ones getting the workout. As you can imagine, both of us are hoping for a windy day. Everyday, right after we finish racing at 4pm the wind kicks up and is perfect planing conditions. It's fun to play around and just sail for a little bit afterwards and enjoy the breeze. And then there are the boys. As boys will be boys, it is a dogfight between Ben B. and Mike G. for the number one position. All the other boys are right behind them giving them a run for it.

Here's a photo from the trials of all of us along with the 470 sailors:
Official Race Results

When the racing is close, small tactical decisions make a huge difference. My goal today is limit the SS Factor (Skipper Stupidity). I am incredibly happy with how much I have improved from race to race and day to day. My lay lines have improved ten fold. Besides the first day, I have not fallen in once. As you can image falling is a very slow way of sailing. Even yesterday when I caught seaweed on my fin and came to stop, I was able to pull some acrobatics and then tack the weeds off while staying on the board. I am looking forward to another great day on the water. Maybe upsetting the score board a little bit too.

Denise Parris, USA 235

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Racing day 2

The Weather Man/Woman was wrong once again. We had a light wind sailing day with lots of pumping action. Karen, the other tall girl and I are slowly but surely becoming pumping machines. Upwind we both have good angle and solid boat speed but when the smaller girls round the upwind mark and start planing downwind we are toast. My goal today was to personally improve and I did! I made each and every lay line and I actually chose a course that was not too too long. I hope that each race day I improve as much as I did today. What a difference from yesterday.

Official Race Results

After having two masts crack this morning and acknowledging that yesterday I gave one of my spare masts to a fellow competitor, I was thankful I had just one more mast. There are advantages to coming prepared for everything. But, we are down to no spares. Looks like once again overnight delivery will come to the rescue just in case. I am glad I had enough spares to keep us all on the water. It is really exciting to be out on the water with so many great sailors all giving it their all. Just amazing. We are all going after our dreams. I'm proud of everyone.

Denise Parris, USA 235

Day one of racing

The need for speed and my number one competitor, Mother Nature, had a couple of surprises. First of all on my way out to the course tacking and tacking out of the boat channel, I had a seal come visit me and almost cause me to fall off my board as I let out a scream of surprise.

In the first race it was marginal conditions (light to borderline planing) and I can attest that a difference of 20 to 30 pounds in a competitor's weight makes a big difference. Downwind the light girls where planing and us tall girls were pumping our hearts out attempting every trick in the book to get planing.
We are doing a W course which is Windward (Upwind) to Leeward (Downwind), with the start and finish at the same spot. The course can be adjusted during the race which can be extremely confusing to say the very least. The goal for race completion is to have each leg (upwind or downwind) take approximately 8 minutes. For example, if we are taking too long in light wind conditions the race course will be shortened. One really has to stay focused on everything that is going on. The challenge in racing is not only to sail as fast as you can but also decide the shortest and best course to the mark. This is where I failed yesterday in the second race. I am pretty convinced that I chose the longest way around each time, missing each and every layline. It was pretty frustrating and very challenging.

Official Race Results

I really learned a lot yesterday and plan to use it today. My goal every day is to improve and have tons of fun. Long Beach is a fun place to sail with surf swell and chop. It looks like another gorgeous day on the water and maybe a even a little bit more wind. Fingers crossed, who knows when the Weather Man/Woman is correct?

Denise Parris, USA 235

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Here we go!

Thanks to Adventure Sports and Overnight Delivery my mast track came yesterday. What a relief! As I installed the new mast track, one of the other competitors set to work trying to fix the old one just in case I would need a spare. Even though there are a lot of emotions and tensions, overall, every competitor is there for each other. Ready to step in and help repair battens, cams, boards, fins, or just offer advice of what they have found has worked best for them. It's great to see the teamwork.

Listening to the national anthem at the open ceremonies last night was incredible. All the emotions and then the realization that this was real. Just being here is a dream. Thank you everyone that has touched my life along the journey. In many ways it has been a wild ride and a priceless experience. The fuzzy feeling that I felt, I know was because I was not standing there alone.

Now it is time to not look back but to just go for it. Looking forward to beating my number one competitor, Mother Nature, and harnessing the wind. As quoted by Goose, in the movie Top Gun, " I feel the need, the need for speed."

Denise Parris, USA 235

Friday, October 5, 2007

More Measurements and Tuning...

I can not wait to get on the water and race! Today we have one more day of measurements (actual racing starts on the 6th). It is hard not to watch in amazement everyone sanding their boards, tweaking gear, and making last minute changes to try to push their gear to an ideal efficiency all while attempting to stay within the "rules."

Yesterday I decided to give my gear one last test drive. I rigged my sail, carried my board down to the dock, and then I discovered that my mast track was not working correctly. For those of you who are asking, what is a mast track? It is where the sail is attached to the board. On the RSX Olympic gear the mast track (pictured above), is adjustable via a pedal you step on with your foot while sailing. Yes, you adjust it on the fly. In light wind conditions the mast track is forward whereas in windy conditions the mast track is back. It's one of the many skills you have to work on, and work on, in order to get the transition fast and graceful, and to be able to do it in a moment's notice. The day before, my pit crew and I replaced all the ropes and examined everything except the mast track. I examined my spare board's mast track only to realize it was also far from ideal working condition. I quickly got on the phone to the distributor to overnight a new mast track. I can not stress how things like this just make you want to scream.

Many of the other competitors can contest to similar stories; as they worry about having enough replacement battens since they have broken one almost everyday in the same spot. Or they have already made so many trips to West Marine that it's starting to make their head spin. My plan was to take today off. But, it looks like I still need one more test drive. As I stated before, you need to be ready for everything which may not even be in plan A, B, C, or D.

Now, I am off to Bikram yoga to find a little balance in all this nuttiness. In many ways I am discovering the measurement process, the details, the protests, and high emotions is a lot like ice skating competitions.

Denise Parris, USA 235

Thursday, October 4, 2007

First day of the Olympic Trials: Measurements & Prep.

The countdown is over, the Olympic Trials are here. Amazing! Just getting here has been an incredible journey. One of the reasons I fell in love with windsurfing is that the challenges are endless, specially when you attached an Olympic Campaign to the quest. Now, there are 13 RSX competitors (six women, seven men), who all share the Olympic dream and a passion for windsurfing, preparing and waiting for race day. The emotions are of the many challenges is staying focused and limiting distractions.

As we all know, stress causes people to do funny things and I have to admit there is a lot of nuttiness going around. Yesterday I took part: My pit crew (Dad and Mom), other competitors offering their opinions, and I spent all day working on the gear detail by detail instead of sailing. RSX racing should come with a WARNING LABEL stating: Need to be very detail originated, engineer, handy man/woman in order repair and tweak gear. If not do not pass go. Oops! If there was such a label I never read it.

As I learned; sick with a Dominican Republic stomach bug, broken down, "chumming for sharks" while floating towards Alcatraz in the San Fransisco Bay; details matter. Considering I had almost everything go wrong in San Fran, I have learned the lesson of being prepared for plan B, C, D, etc.. Now, I am ready to just sail and have tons of fun.

Thank you for all your support. The emails and cheers have been great. You're awesome.

Denise Parris, USA 235

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Olympic Trials are here!

The 2008 US Sailing Olympic trials are being held in Long Beach, CA from October 3-14. I'm going to get there early to train and acclimate to the conditions (that's me getting cozy with the sea lions in Long Beach in the photo). I will be posting here to keep you all up to date with my progress.

The official web site of the 2008 US Sailing Olympic Trials is here:
As you're checking out US Sailing's site, remember that the windsurfer class for the Olympics is called the RS:X...

Wish me luck!

Denise Parris, USA 235