Sarah Douglas – From volunteer to Pan American Gold Medalist

Sarah and Canadian Flag

Sept 12, 2019

I cross the finish line, heart pumping and barely able to breath from the grueling conditions. I can’t believe that I have just become the 2019 Pan American Champion in the Women’s Dinghy (Laser Radial). I’ve just won the medal race in a windy 25 knots in Paracas, Peru.

I go hug my coach (Ken Dool), hug my competitors and hold the Canadian Flag high as I make my way to shore. My teammates come running into the water to celebrate and I’m overwhelmed. It doesn’t feel real that I’ve won a Gold Medal. Shortly after I’m at the Medal Ceremony, standing on the podium and the Canadian national anthem starts to play. I look to my right and I can see the Canadian team and my parents as they sing the anthem. This feeling starts to set in, and I get emotional. That week, I left it all out on the water. I went out of my comfort zone and pushed myself to a new level and all of my hard work has paid off. This is one of those moments that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Sarah Douglas PodiumPhoto by Guillermo Arias / Lima 2019

Flashback to 4 years ago: I was raking sand as a volunteer for the 2015 Pan Am Games, if you told me that I would win a Gold medal at the next Pan Am Games, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. At the time, I didn’t know that being involved in the 2015 Pan Am Games would start to set me up for success.

I came to Peru directly from Japan after competing in a tough world championships, as I travelled across the world, I wrote down all my feelings and then turned the page both mentally and literally. It was time to focus on my next task at hand, the 2019 Pan Am Games. 30 hours of travelling and I made it to the satellite athlete village in Paracas, Peru. My goals for the next few days were to overcome jet lag, get into a routine and get a few days of training on the water before racing started.

Luckily, I already knew a fair amount of what a multi-games event entailed. Between competing at the 2010 Youth Olympics and the 2015 Pan Am Games I knew what I needed to do.

Just 4 years ago I was able to get an inside look of the Pan Am Games. My former teammate Brenda Bowskill was competing. I learnt a lot from Brenda as she prepared to compete in Toronto; I knew the team requirements, media attention and logistics of what an event of this caliber entailed. Back in 2015 I got the best of both worlds. I prepared with Brenda out on the water and when it came to competition time, I volunteered my time on the beach volleyball courts. My role was ball retriever and sand raker; all in our orange outfits, the volunteers had a blast. We got to interact with the players, staff and help out one of my favourite sports. I truly appreciate all of the volunteers that put their time towards making these events a success.

Sarah VolunteerSarah volunteers in 2015

Learning from the 2015 Pan Am Games, I felt prepared for the ones I was about to compete in but not everything goes to plan. I unexpectedly caught a bacterial infection and was on bed rest and antibiotics for most of my time in Peru. I was happy to have a full support team around me in Peru and back at home that made sure everything went as smoothly as it could.

In just 15 days in Peru, I learnt a lot about myself; how I act under pressure, how I could push myself outside of my comfort zone and what it will take to win a medal at the 2020 Olympics. Medal or not I am happy with how I sailed and how I approached the multi-Games event. Directly after the Pan Am Games, I headed back to Japan for the Olympic Test Event – Ready Steady Tokyo. Exhausted from travel and competing, I had one more event to finish and very happy with how I sailed considering it was my third back to back competition. Finishing 7th in Japan gives me confidence in what I can do next year.

It’s been great to bring the medal home to celebrate with my family, friends and the community. I hope it can inspire young athletes to keep striving for their goals; that hard work, dedication and perseverance can and does pay off. To remember to turn the page after a tough event as every experience will prepare you for what’s next.

Team CanadaI am in the process of finalizing my plans for the next year as I push towards the 2020 Olympics and Olympic trials. I’m heading back to Japan next month to learn as much as I can about the venue and train with the world’s best before heading to Europe for the fall and then Australia for the 2020 World Championships in February.

Learn more about Sarah, keep up to date with her Olympic Campaign and how you can support her, head over to her website:

– Sarah Douglas

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