Apr 11, 2017

SarahBy: Katherine Stone and Wendy Loat

The road to Gold is a tough one and getting even tougher for our Olympic sailors. Sarah Douglas is beginning her quest to represent Canada in the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan and she recently won the Marvin McDill Memorial Trophy for the National Team Rookie of the Year.

Sarah sails a Radial Laser, which is the single-handed Women’s Olympic class boat, while the men sail the full, or standard rig. Behind her are her family, Sail Canada and The Ashbridge’s Bay Yacht Club. Sarah didn’t go through the ABYC Junior program, but joined as an instructor/coach, something she still enjoys doing with the ABYC Racing Team, after having trained at both the Royal Canadian YC and Port Credit YC. Sarah’s response was, “ABYC is a great club. It has a real community atmosphere which attracted me and why I have continued to race under the ABYC burgee. I saw a lot of potential in the junior program and wanted to help develop the sailors coming up. I am passionate about youth sailing in Canada. “

Sarah is following her older brother's footsteps, who also spent several years as a Canadian National Sailing Team member and went to two Olympic games. Sarah’s parents had not been sailors, but somehow managed to raise two elite sailing athletes.

The Douglases live in Barbados and joined the Barbados Yacht Club so that Greg and his father could spend quality time together learning to sail. Sarah, four years younger than Greg, started in the Opti program when she was seven. She had a love-hate relationship with sailing when she started, hating it when she couldn’t see the ocean floor anymore! Greg and Sarah’s sailing have had a big influence on developing strong family bonds. Greg’s success showed Sarah what hard work can accomplish.

Sail adjustmentssail adjustments are crucial to fast sailing

Sarah explains, “The Laser Radial is very physically demanding and requires a lot of training. On an average day, we spend about 3 or 4 hours on the water and almost 2 hours later in the gym. The Laser Radial requires a lot of power and endurance in our legs and core as well as some upper body for sheeting. Depending upon the wind I can easily burn 3000 calories in one on-water session. I receive a gym program from a trainer at the sport center. I go to the gym about 5 or 6 times a week and also try to make it to a yoga class once a week. My workouts consist of weight training and bike/row intervals.”

Sarah is completing her degree at the University of Guelph, majoring in marketing management and is graduating this spring. Sarah was attracted to Guelph as she wanted to be close to Toronto but did not want to go to school downtown. Guelph was perfect as it was about an hour’s drive to Toronto and she was able to make training practice 3-4 times during the week.

As a student, balancing her sailing and student life wasn’t easy. As Sarah explains, “I am constantly travelling and have become very good at time management. Before each semester started I would email my profs and explain my situation, making sure I could still take the course with my travelling and training demands. At the beginning of the semester I would approach my professor with the dates that I would be gone and we would discuss how I could move assignment or test dates in order to complete the course. My university advisor became very helpful in planning out my courses. I was unable to take a full course load with all my travelling, so my advisor helped me plan when I could take my courses and provided me with online alternatives. It wasn’t easy and I didn’t have the average experience of a university student; I wouldn’t go out to the bar with all my friends every weekend or even stay up to watch a movie with my roommates. Sleeping is one of the most important parts of training!”

Marvin Mcdill Awards Sarah Douglas wins Marvin McDill Award

Peter and Dale Douglas made a huge commitment to support not just one, but TWO elite athletes vying for coveted Olympic berths. Travel to their regattas and training became the family travel and vacations. They have never been to Disney World. They went to regattas instead.

The experience with Greg’s funding has been quite different than Sarah’s. Greg benefited from funding by Wind Athletes for equipment and financial support for training and regattas leading up to the 2012 Olympics. There has been a reduction in financial and coaching support for the Radial program since 2012, resulting in the burden now falling on the athletes and their families. Fundraising has become much more of a requirement for Sarah.
Sarah’s parents provide her with a place to live, a vehicle capable of towing a trailer to get her around North America for training and regattas, money for food and other living expenses. She benefits from the low-cost housing through the Pan Am Games housing legacy program in Toronto. He parents help to close the gap between the cost of the program and the various funding sources that have been available to her: carding money, Quest for Gold, support from ABYC, coaching income and fundraising.

Based on their experiences with Greg, the level of expenditure increases significantly as the athlete gets closer to the games and the training and competition tempo intensifies. 2020 is going to be especially challenging as the travel and costs in Japan will be higher.

Sarah goes on to say, “If I had not chosen to pursue my dream of Olympic sailing, life would be very different. Like most of my friends and classmates, right now I would have graduated and hopefully have a job. I am happy that I have chosen the path of Olympic sailing, although I am taking 5 years to complete my degree. I get to travel around the world and do what I love. I am constantly thanking my parents for the opportunities that I have had.”

“Rosie McLennan had a special impact on me as she inspired me to start competitive sailing again and campaign for the Olympic Games. I was the alternate for the Canada Games and had the opportunity to go to an Ontario training camp which included different sports. At the end Rosie and other Olympians spoke about their experiences and the journey to her gold medal. I was thinking, ‘what am I doing with my life?’ I want to be the best in the world and I want a medal in sailing.”

There have been many families and yacht clubs that have backed their Olympic sailors. Is yours one of them? How can you help? What can you do? We hope this article has given you pause and inspiration to do just that.

You can follow Sarah’s Road to the Olympics on Facebook, her webpage or Twitter @sarahdouglas

ABYC is hosting a fundraising Dinner for Sarah on Saturday, April 22 , 2017 to help with the cost of her Olympic campaign. If you can’t make it, you can make a tax-free donation to Sarah’s campaign by visiting