With her whole life revolving around competitive sailing, Sarah Douglas has her eye on the prize – the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. But until then, we caught up with her to hear a little bit about her road to the top. As a proud supporter of Sail Swag, she gladly sat down with us to share her story on how she is using this summer to prepare for her lifelong dream of becoming an Olympian. During our conversation, the Canadian National Sailing Team member told us what inspired her and how she overcomes the many challenges in her way.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you first got into sailing?
I grew up in the beautiful island of Barbados. My brother signed up for sailing lessons, and I propelled in his footsteps. I started at the age of seven at the local yacht club, and I loved it from there. I loved the water, so I just kept on going.
That’s a really young age to start, and you’ve never stopped since?
No, I love it, so my whole life now revolves around sailing.
What is it about sailing that got you passionate about the sport?
I love the water. I love diving and I love water sports, and I loved being on the water. I loved the whole lifestyle of sailing. And once I got into competition, I’m a very competitive person, so the actual sport and competition of sailing I really enjoyed.
At which age did you start competing?
Age 10. I actually went to my first world championships in Ecuador in the Optimist at age 10, and I would do local regattas at the local yacht club in Barbados. And then I came up to Canada in the summers, starting at age 11 to compete here, until I permanently relocated there at age 14.
How did you end up competing for Team Canada?
As a kid I started competing for Canada, and I had a dream of competing at the Olympics. So I had to figure out what the steps were. I was on the Ontario team for about two years, and I’ve now been on the National Team for about two years. This is my second year. I made the National team in 2015, and there are different qualification events and criteria that you need to make it. And now I’m a Carded Athlete on the National Team.
How hard do you have to train for this? Can you describe your training regime?
Generally I go to the gym 6 times a week. I’m doing a training program from Sheldon Persad at the Canadian Sport Institute of Ontario I follow that program. In addition to that, I have on-water training. Depending on where I am, and what the focus is, it could be every day that week, or it could be just a couple of times a week. So right now it’s just a couple of times a week of the gym program. But in the spring time in Florida, it could be Monday to Friday. Or its 4 days on, 1 day off, 4 days on; it just depends on where I was and what the focus is.
So you would train for specific competitions?
Yes, so before our Mexico World Championships, I had about 4 days on the water, and 2 days off before the competition.
How did you do in the competition?
Pretty well. I had my personal best. I came 21st overall, which I am happy with.
How does the scoring work in Sailing?
A competition is over a series of days. Depending on which event, it can be longer. World championships are over seven days, two races a day, and each race is about an hour long. So for each race you get points, if you came in first place you get one point, if you came in fifth, you get five points, so the goal is to get the least amount of points at the end.
Does this take into consideration the changing weather conditions?
Yes, each venue has different conditions, so you have to adapt. You have to be good at heavy breeze, light breeze, so you have to be a well-rounded competitor.
What exactly are the steps you had to take to become an Olympic level competitor?
A lot of training, a lot of sacrifice. I can’t do what the average 22 year old does. I’m in the gym 6 times a week, training a lot, travelling [for competitions] – so I had to give up my social life a little bit because I have so much to do. And same thing with school – I wasn’t able to finish my degree in four years; I had to take five [years] with reduced course load. Luckily, my professors have been very accommodating, and if I miss a week at a time, they let me hand in work or take exams on separate deadlines.
Basically, it takes a lot of training, coaching, funding, support from friends and family and all that. There are various competitions you have to go through to qualify for the Olympics. You have to qualify the country to the Olympics, and the International sailing federation will outline what scores you need in order to qualify the country. We will have our own in-country trials and this year we also had a selection committee; you have to be the best in all of Canada and a solid performer to be sent to the Olympics.
Who are your biggest mentors in sailing?
I would say my older brother [Greg Douglas]. He’s a 2 times Olympian. We would do competitions and travel together as a family to compete. He was the one who inspired me to go competitive, and guided and inspired me along the way.
Who was your biggest supporter through all of this?
My family. Parents supported me a lot. My dad drove with me to Florida. We drove 25 hours in the car. They are always there to support me with everything I need, and I’m really happy to have such nice parents to support me.
What are your next steps in terms of your competitive life?
Now I am training in Toronto and I’m heading to Rio to help my teammate for the Olympic prep. I will be there for about 10 days. This summer, I’m also taking some time to coach, and give back to the community and help out at my local yacht club, Ashbridge’s Bay Yacht Club. And in September I will be starting my school year, and I’ll be in the gym and on-water training. Then planning my year ahead: which competitions I will be going to, whether it’s locally or internationally.
And your goal is the next Olympics?
Yes, Tokyo 2020, and also to compete the 2019 Pan Am in Peru.
Did you compete in the 2015 Pan Am games in Toronto?
No. My teammate, [Brenda Bowskill], who is going to the Olympics this year, she participated. I helped her train for the Pan Am games. We did a lot of prep for the race, so I got to see a lot of the behind the scene of the operations for the Pan Am Games.
So do you feel like that experience would help you in your own pursuit for the Pan Am games?
Absolutely. I got to help train with Brenda and prep her for that. I got a behind the scenes view to what needs to be done and what it takes to get ready for such a big event!