Above photo: Georgia Lewin-LaFrance competed in the worldwide Sail Grand Prix representing Canada.
Georgia and Antonia Lewin-LaFrance are aiming to make their mark in the sailing world as they eye the 49erFX class event at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Originally from Montreal, the Lewin-LaFrance sisters began sailing on a cottage laser that their father used to force the two of them to sail on, despite their protests.
“My dad used to take us out on it, despite our kicking and screaming,” said Antonia Lewin-LaFrance.
The sibling’s love for sailing was further solidified after 2005 when their family began to summer in Chester, Nova Scotia when Antonia was eight and Georgia was five. Many kids their age were involved in the sailing school in the area, so again, the sisters were thrust into the sailing world by way of the junior sailing program at the Chester Yacht Club.
“Sailing school was just the thing that you did. It was affordable, it was social and all the kids were doing it,” said Lewin-LaFrance. “We did many, many summers at Chester Yacht Club, actually, and that was huge for us.”
Eventually, their family decided to relocate to Chester. The sisters began to go to school in Halifax, and due to the proximity of the club, began to sail out of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron. Their time there, according to Lewin-LaFrance, ignited a passion for the sport in both of them.
“We kind of had an opportunity to sail in the shoulder seasons and sail out of Halifax at the squadron, because we both got to be quite feisty and competitive out on the water. So, we both got to grow up doing those shoulder seasons and eventually the summers, as well,” said Lewin-LaFrance.
Eventually, Antonia and Georgia began to campaign together after Georgia finished sixth in the 2017 ISAF Youth Sailing World Championships in China. According to Antonia, her sister needed a crew and asked her to step in for a few sessions and a few regattas. From there, the duo began concocting their Olympic campaign.
In planning their campaign, the Lewin-LaFrance sisters deliberated on which class they would choose, with their two options in mind being the 470 or the 49erFX class. They eventually settled on a 49erFX, which Lewin-LaFrance said the pair is happy they picked in the end.
“I think part of it is that the boat continues to surprise us all the time. You can think that you have a condition figured out, then go out in huge waves and strong wind and just be completely shocked at how the boat can just take you by surprise, but we do enough training to keep that surprise at bay,” said Lewin-LaFrance. “It’s a really overpowered rig. Sometimes it’s a matter of keeping it from pitchpoling downwind or anything like that. It gets air upwind frequently in the right conditions, and it’s such a joy to sail, honestly. It’s such a well-designed boat and rig.”
By the time the Lewin-LaFrance sisters go to the Paris Olympics in the summer of 2024, it will have been around six years since they started their Olympic campaign. In this time, they’ve garnered achievements like winning bronze at the 2021 European Championships and the 2022 Kieler Woche, coming sixth at the 2021 World Championship, being awarded the 2022 Rolex Sailors of the Year award for Canada as well as the 2021 and 2022 Sail Nova Scotia Sailors of the Year award. For Antonia, getting so close to what was once a distant goal still feels a bit unreal.
“It’s such a weird, surreal thing to finally be so close to the games and to be in this period just before our Olympic trials,” said Lewin-LaFrance. “I think the success of the Olympics being within our reach is such a cool feeling after all the work that we’ve done — all these years of work. It has been such a huge effort to get to where we’ve been, and I know all athletes say that leading up to a huge event, but specifically for our situation; coming into the boat completely out of shape and building all that muscle and that muscle memory and all that time getting freaked out by the boat bouncing around. It’s all worth it now in the end, and I really hope it translates to success.”
Throughout their campaign, the sailing duo has sought funding to help them reach their goals. While some monetary support for their sailing career has come through organizations like Sail Canada, a large portion of their operating funds are from private donations through Wind Athletes or corporate sponsorships.
Anyone looking to support team Lewin-LaFrance’s upcoming season can send a tax-deductible donation through www.windathletes.ca/athletes/team-lewin-lafrance. Any potential sponsors of the team can contact Antonia and Georgia at firstname.lastname@example.org.