Several white-sailed boats cut through the surface of Lake Whatcom Wednesday, Oct.16, as Western Washington University's sailing team conducted an afternoon practice with about 20 students taking to the water, two of whom are starting some big plans for their future in sailing.
Taylor Martin and Gabe Hill, both experienced members of Western’s sailing team, have started the process of campaigning to sail in the 2020 Summer Olympic trials, including fundraising and extensive practicing and training.
Martin, co-captain of the sailing team and a junior at Western, has been sailing for ten years and competitively racing for six.
“Its an idea that I’ve been playing with since I graduated high school, or really since I found out that you can sail in the Olympics,” Martin said about his Olympic goals.
For Martin, it was an idea that began to come to fruition this past summer after the acquisition of a new sailing vessel called the International 14, or I14, which is similar to the class of boat Martin and Hill would plan to race in Olympic events.
Martin said there are eight classes of boats in Olympic sailing. The class Martin and Hill intend to compete in uses a boat called a 49er —an Olympic-class boat for which the I14 is a good fit to begin training and competing. Both boats are what are referred to as a two-handed dinghy, meaning that they require two athletes in control to properly operate and race.
The two people that handle the boats are called the skipper and the crew.
“My job as the skipper is to keep the boat upright and get around the course amongst all the other boats,” Martin said. “[The crew’s] job is to keep the sails trimmed right and to keep the boat moving fast.”
This is where Hill comes into the picture. Hill, a sophomore at Western and a first mate with the sailing team as of this year, has been sailing for six years since his sophomore year of high school.
“It kind of took over my life from there,” Hill said.
This past summer Martin approached Hill to join in the campaign for the Olympic trials. The pair began practicing with the I14, taking it out as often as possible and making multiple adjustments to improve the overall function of the vessel.
“Since I’ve started sailing I’ve thought about the Olympics as a possibility,” Hill said. “It’s one of the top places in the sport you can go, but I hadn’t really considered it or what kind of boat I would sail. Taylor [Martin} got this boat, didn’t tell anybody he was getting it and said ‘lets go for it and see where we end up.’”
At this point in time, Martin and Hill still have to keep a large amount of their focus on short-term goals.
“The first step is finishing school,” Martin said, emphasizing the importance of a back-up option should their campaign not go as planned.
Also keeping his current situation in mind is Hill.
“Right now I’m really focused on the Western sailing team,” he said, “Once you start sailing collegiately you have five years to do four years worth of sailing, and once you get through that you’re not eligible anymore.”
Hill said he is trying to get the most he can out of time he has to sail here at Western, but as time goes on he sees Martin and himself working and racing even more with the Olympic class of sailing.
While both athletes continue to meet their present responsibilities and obligations, progress towards the 2020 Olympic trials is still made by continuing to practice and compete with the I14, Martin said.
“Right now we’re getting in as many regattas as we can on this boat that we’re campaigning for,” he said, “I think we’re planning [around] four regattas this year.” Regattas are racing events for sailing that can include up to five races per day over a span of several days. Over the next couple of years Martin and Hill plan to continue racing in local events with Western’s team, while continuing to race with the I14 in national regattas. In the near future, Martin said that he and Hill are registered to compete in regattas coming up in November and January.
“Its hard to judge [our competition] because there are a lot of people in gear right now for the 2016 games who may or may not be competing in the 2020 or 2024 games,” Martin said. “We do have our eye on the other American teams who are currently registered. There are a few out there, maybe five teams, who are serious and kind of in the same gear [as us].”
Beyond the racing and practicing aspect of preparing for the trials, Martin and Hill are also required to act as campaign managers and fundraisers.
“The hardest part [of the campaign] is the fundraising and the managing aspect of it,” Martin said. “Because we get enough time on the boat, its just the system of support around what you’re doing that has to stay together.”
While the I14 is similar and provides good training for the 49er, another large step on Martin and Hill’s path is gathering and saving funds to purchase their own Olympic-level boat.
According to a website updated by Martin on the campaign’s progress, the pair hopes to raise $12,000 in order to attain their first 49er.
Martin said he and Hill hope to work with local sailing groups in the area, such as the Bellingham Yacht Club, to put on fundraising events and raise awareness about their goal.
“The hardest part of what we’re doing right now is just trying to get people aware of what we’re doing,” Martin said.
Even with the 2020 Olympic trial several years in the future, both Martin and Hill know that it will take persistent practicing and planning to achieve a place among Olympic competitors, and have even gone so far as to plan ahead for the 2024 Olympics Games, as most sailing teams fail to make the cut their first time around.
“It starts now,” Hill said. “We’re laying a foundation and putting as much energy into it as we can.”
Martin is driven and will not stop until he reaches his goal.
“I will sail until I can’t sail or until I get a medal,” Martin said.
Follow Martin and Hill's campaign on their website.
Learn more about Western's sailing team.