Charting Her Course
Sarah Newberry ’10 is chasing her Olympic sailing dreams
by Beth Luberecki
Though Sarah Newberry was born into a family of sailors, she didn’t take to the sport right away. In fact, her enrollment at age eight in a learn-to-sail program was something of a disaster.
“I hated it,” she recalls. “I would cry so I wouldn’t have to go, until my parents finally took me out of the program.”
New College alumna Sarah Newberry is campaigning to represent the United States in mixed multihull sailing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Things didn’t start clicking on the water until middle school, when she joined her Miami school’s sailing team. Though her skills were lacking at first, she drew inspiration from the nationally ranked youth sailors who were also on the team. “I took it seriously then,” she says. “Once I started doing it, I wanted to beat them.”
She’s gone on to beat a lot of other sailors over the course of her sailing career, which now finds the 2010 graduate of New College of Florida campaigning to represent the United States in mixed multihull sailing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I feel very confident in my approach and in my plan,” says Newberry. “I feel like I have a really good shot.”
It’s been a long road for the 26-year-old to get to this point. As a youth, she raced sailboats with a single hull, mainly dinghies. She first dipped her toe into multihull sailing when she was 14, prompted by her uncle, who raced catamarans and had done an Olympic campaign of his own. He started pairing her up with his friends, big guys who needed a smaller partner to prevent their boats from being too heavy. In 2006, she became the first female driver to win the U.S. Youth Multihull Championship.
In 2008, while a student at New College, she got an unexpected call from someone looking for a last-minute partner for his Olympic campaign. “We had no real shot—people train for this for years—but it was such a good opportunity,” says Newberry. She flew to San Diego for several weeks of intensive training and a firsthand look at the campaigning process.
“I told myself that as soon as I can do this I want to do it,” she says. “Then right after that, the Olympics pulled multihull out of the Games.”
So Newberry put it out of her mind while she finished her arts studies at New College. She didn’t race much while at school, instead coaching at the Sarasota Youth Sailing Program and instructing at the New College Sailing Club.
After graduating in 2010, she worked as a freelance graphic designer, continuing to sail in her free time. She raced in a handful of events during the year, but the expense of doing so as an adult gave her pause.
“I realized that I couldn’t keep spending money I hardly had to go participate in this sport as a hobby,” says Newberry. “I said to myself either I’m quitting it, because it’s torture to know that I can be someone competitive but can’t invest myself in it, or I’m going to do it full-time. Right after that, they reinstated multihull in the Olympics, and as soon they did that I was full throttle.”
That same description could be applied to multihull sailing as well. “It’s really fast, very intense, physically challenging—and wet,” she laughs. “It’s just nonstop. The platform that we race on is so small, and so while we’re racing around a course we’re racing around the boat too. We’re all over the place in the boat.”
It requires constant focus, but it’s exactly what Newberry wants to be focusing on at this point in her life. “When I’m in the Gulf Stream in Miami and the water is the most amazing blue color and the fish are flying and there are massive waves, it’s the best thing I can imagine in my life, to feel the way I do out there,” she says. “And part of the reason why I feel like that is that I really enjoy excelling at my sport. Every day that I’m out there doing it, it’s empowering and creates momentum.”
She credits her years at New College with giving her the courage to pursue sailing full-time, even if it meant quitting her day job. “It gave me the confidence to say that I am the kind of person who can be self-motivated and create what I want to achieve and not be afraid of it,” she says. “Without that environment, I’m not sure I would have had the same experience doing this Olympic campaign—and learning how to do it from scratch. It definitely allowed me to grow into a person who’s confident in deciding to pursue something they’re passionate about.”
Taking on that kind of pursuit involves much more than just spending time on the water, although there’s plenty of that. “It’s meant changing what I eat and how I structure my day,” says Newberry, who is based in Miami. “I went from being someone who didn’t spend hours in the gym every day to being really aware of my body and how I treat it.”
She’s also kind of a one-woman show when it comes to fundraising and logistics, running her Web site (usamultihull2016.com), processing and acknowledging donations, and maintaining and arranging transportation for her equipment. She’s gotten support from the U.S. Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider, sponsors like the International Seakeepers Society and law firms Moore & Company and Lott & Fischer, and a slew of family and friends.
“The Miami community has been so supportive and receptive,” says Newberry. “It’s amazing to be supported by people who really want to see me do well.”
Her campaign has undergone some changes recently, when she and longtime partner John Casey decided to go their separate ways. She’s now partnering with Matthew Whitehead, a two-time youth world champion in the F18 catamaran class.
“We’ve known each other and raced against each other for years,” she says. “He has an amazing resume, and his technical level is through the roof.” \
Newberry knows she still has a long road ahead of her. Mixed multihull is a new class at the Olympics in 2016, and is utilizing a new boat, the Nacra 17. And although she has lots of past successes on which to build, including recent first-place finishes at the Nacra 17 North American Championship and U.S. Nacra 17 National Championship, what counts is how she performs when a spot on the Olympic team is on the line.
“Sarah was among the first Americans to begin training in this new boat,” says Craig Leweck, editor of Scuttlebutt Sailing News, a Web site that reports on the sport. “This next year (2015) will be critical for Sarah to refine her skills, but the opportunity for her to represent the United States in the Olympics is quite real.”
“Doing a campaign is like having a really long job interview,” says Newberry. “Only one team goes to the Olympics, and quite a few American teams are campaigning. The class is incredibly competitive, and it’s not going to be easy to win the trials. But right now I think I can hold my own.”