Not being on the water all spring due to COVID-19 restrictions hasn’t stopped Chester, N.S. sisters Antonia and Georgia Lewin-LaFrance from navigating towards their goal of competing at the 2024 Olympics.
The duo, members of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron (RNSYS), began sailing and competing together two years ago in the 49erFX class. In 2019, they placed second in the 49erFX North American Championships and first in CORK OCR.
This year their racing season started with the World Championships in Geelong, Australia in February. “Being our first Worlds event, we were there to learn and get to know our competition,” said Team Lewin-LaFrance in an email. “At that point, every airport was on high alert for COVID-19.”
The team returned to Canada for a short break before leaving for three more events in Europe between March and June. “Two days before our flight, everything got cancelled. It was a mental blow, not to mention a financial and logistical nightmare. We are a new and young team to our class, and this year was supposed to be our first year competing at most of the major events around the world. We were extremely excited to travel and sail against the best; further, this year was an Olympic year, meaning that all the teams would be at the top of their game with hopes to qualify themselves for a spot at the games. Even though these events were cancelled, we feel both fortunate and excited that, because of the pandemic, we will be able to sail with the 2020 hopefuls for another year.”
Spending the spring quarantined with their family in Chester, Team Lewin-LaFrance has been making good use of the time. “During the quarantine, we’ve done nothing but work together and grow stronger as a team,” they said. “The key to staying on track was sticking to a routine. Our coach put together a lot of long term tasks for us (to-the-gram nutrition tracking, individualized mental performance workshops, case-by-case rule scenarios with an international jury), which took up a lot of time on a daily basis and which would have been difficult to do if we were sailing. We got to work on areas that significantly impacted our sailing performance but that would have been hard to manage had it been a normal training camp or event. With the help of our support network and our teammates, we were very consistent with our routines. We both feel that having this time to focus on our off-water performance goals has significantly accelerated the timeline of achieving those goals and will benefit our sailing immensely once we return. It’s a very unique opportunity.”
Besides using the chance to spend quality time with family and focusing on off-water performance objectives, Team Lewin-LaFrance has also been maintaining their strength and endurance training, as well as mobility, balance and aerobic fitness during the pandemic.
“One key thing we had to get creative about was maintaining our balance. When you go a long stretch without sailing, especially in our boat where you’re never sitting down, your body slowly loses its ability to handle all the forces at play. There is a lot of inertia and g-force in skiffs. We’ve been spending a lot of time working on our balance… Working out, and especially getting outside, has been a consistent pleasure that has helped both of us remain happy and enjoy our time in isolation.”
With COVID-19 restrictions easing in late May, Team Lewin-LaFrance was looking forward to getting back on the water, first by themselves, then hopefully with their coach and training partners. Team Lewin-LaFrance has been named to the 2020-21 Canadian Sailing Development Squad for a second year, something they are very thankful for “because it means we get access to the national team skiff coach… He’s been monumental for us as a coach and mentor. He’s incredibly knowledgeable about our boat. Being on the team also means we get access to things like strength and conditioning, physiotherapy, massage therapy, a nutritionist and all the like. When we started our campaign two years ago, we decided to go for the 2024 Olympics and not 2020 because learning and mastering these boats at this level takes a lot of time.”
The two have also been pursuing their education. Antonia has a Bachelor of Science degree from Dalhousie University and has been studying for her medical school entrance exams. Georgia has been working on the third year of her civil engineering undergraduate degree at Queen’s University.
“We’ll be sailing full-time with other no commitments starting next year, 2021, with confidence that we have done what we need to have a smooth transition out of sailing at the end of our campaign,” they said. “This gives us a sense of security about the future and allows us to focus entirely on our athletic pursuit.
While the pandemic cancelled many events that Team Lewin-LaFrance were excited for, “we’re taking it one day at a time and never losing sight of our goal; motivation is high right now but our goal is to remain consistent so that we don’t burn out. Once we start sailing again, we will have a unique opportunity of training for a long period of time at home without competing. We are adapting to the circumstances and accepting that this may be a ‘new norm’ for a while.”