The Last Dance

 “Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out” 

I’ve never had a major injury before. I take a lot of pride in that and give myself a fair bit of credit for it. I eat well, train well and feel pretty in tune with what my body and mind need on a day to day basis. The last thing I expected before the worlds was to get injured! My training preparation had been as good as it’s ever been and mentally, I was ready to give my all again. Then, just like that, everything turned for the worst. I’d just finished a really good four days of training and was planning on having the weekend off to recover when that night I woke up in the worst pain in my left shoulder. There was no way I was getting back to sleep and no way I could get away from the pain. I send a message first thing to our physio on site, Warrick, and he straight away took the time out of his weekend to see me. After some tests we weren’t sure what was going on but we knew I had lost all my external rotation in my shoulder. I literally couldn’t rotate my left arm out wards at all!

One of the last training sessions before the injury
One of the last training sessions before the injury

After a stressful and painful Saturday, I had to keep moving. Sunday was time to pick up my new charter boat and rig it properly. There was still no improvement by the days end so by Monday morning I was in the Melbourne CBD seeing our team doctor, Dr Kathy Yu. An ultrasound and cortisone shot later and I was back at the boat park to do my final sailing session and see if I could actually still sail a boat at all! The boat felt great and the new sail looked mint. I could still hike but I’d lost a lot of control of my left shoulder and was pretty out of control going downwind. It was going to be an interesting regatta, but at least I could still get out there.

Rare photo of Buhli behind me (or anyone for that matter) on day one of racing

Qualifying – The stage was set; it was time to race. After a little bit of time under AP to get everyone’s nerves up, the 126-boat fleet got out in a nice 10 -14 knot southerly. With the fleet split into three, low numbers where going to be important to making the cut. I started with a bang and was first to the top mark in a hot red fleet but couldn’t quite hold off JB (the Frenchman) or Elliot (GBR) so had to settle for a 3rd. I backed up the next race with a 6th which was a solid comeback from 11th at the top but still had room for improvement considering I got up to 2nd at one point. Still, a good first day.

Good starts lead to a good day on day two of racing (I’m third from left)

Day two was a cracking southerly breeze, 12-18 knots, with sunshine and nice waves. I sailed the day really well with some good speed and walked away with a 2nd and 1st to win the day in my fleet. It came at a cost though. That night, I didn’t sleep and wink, my shoulder was in so much pain. By now I’d figured out I couldn’t sleep lying down anymore. The only way to find some relief was to place some pillows behind me and try and sleep lying upright. It was far from ideal and make me feel horrible the next day.

I was pretty cranky on day three. The pain was bad and I hadn’t slept at all. We had a strange south easterly wind blowing as well but I managed to navigate it fairly well with a 10th and 5th place but found myself losing places throughout the races which is something that hadn’t happened yet. Rafa (my coach for the event while Blackers focused on Matt) didn’t let me get too frustrated by it though and told me I should be happy with how the qualifying had gone. I was in 5th place overall, well on track for my goal of top 10.

The pain in my shoulder was as bad as it had been and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to sleep much again and I was right. Dr Kathy agreed it was time to see what was going on and arranged an MRI for the first morning of finals racing. Luckily my Dad had been in Melbourne since the start of the event to support me, otherwise all of this would have been that much harder. We went to the MRI that morning before rushing back home again to get ready for racing. Fortunately, I had some luck on my side with the bipolar Melbourne weather delivering some strong storm cells to Port Phillip bay, cancelling racing for the day. This gave my shoulder a much-needed rest day but also meant I was going to have to deal with 6 races over the next two days of sailing. It was going to be an important weekend.

Gold fleet starting is on another level

Finals – We were greeted to the first day of finals with dark clouds, rain, cold and lots of wind from the south west. Classic Melbourne conditions. The racing was hard but I held my own. I was 10 at the top and banked a 6th in the first race to start finals strong. I backed that up with a really hard fought 10th and finished with a solid but very disappointing to me, 15th. It was disappointing because I was leading the race with only a few minutes of sailing left to the top mark. I made choice to duck and starboard tacker (Jesper, SWE) and continue to the lay line. He chose to cross the fleet and approach the top mark from the left lay. I was 20th at the top and he was 1st and won the race. It’s moments like those that keep you awake at night about what could have been. After all that my consistency was paying off and I was still holding down 5th place but the points were compressing with a bunch of really top yachties just behind me. It was going to be a super Sunday.

The worst part of my day, trying to get the mainsheet in with one arm around the bottom mark

Sunday was by far the most extreme conditions we had seen all event. East south east winds with diagonal waves, big pressure differences and massive shifts. It was nothing like any of us had really trained in yet and the potential to get caught out on the wrong side of the course was huge. Again, I set myself up for consistency and just had to hope my speed would carry me to the top. I was so exhausted by this point in the week. I had barely slept; my shoulder was really painful and I was so irritable I felt like I could snap just from someone looking at me the wrong way. I just wanted this to be over, which isn’t the way I really want to be ever, let alone when I’m doing what I love. I banked a 14th in the first race but with lots of small mistakes throughout the race. I felt like I should have easily been in the top 5 that race. The next race I had a good start but was rolled by someone sailing exceptionally quick, quicker I think than I’ve ever seen a laser sailed upwind. I was assuming it must have been on of the big guys like Buhl (GER) or JB (FRA) but to my surprise it was my friend Wannes (BEL). We were the head of the fleet but I didn’t want to stay in his bad air so I split away which turned out to be a costly error. With the majority of the fleet set up to my left I was looking great but as we got closer to the top the left continued to reward those out there and I ended up with my worst race, a 24th. Again, a race where I’m left kicking myself for the chances I had blown.

Off the start on the final day of racing. Good starts definitely helped my performance this regatta

For the final race I saved my worst start of the event. I got spat out so quickly but managed to work some shifts that put me back in the game by the top. I had a solid run and great second beat and all of a sudden, I was putting away a 10th place and sealing the deal on 7th overall! It was a huge relief to have finally finished in side the top 10, I goal I have had since I was 15 years old and one, I have tortured myself with for a very long time. For a long time, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to do it but here we are. The points were so close in the end, as it turns out I was only 8 points away from a bronze medal! So now I’m back to kicking myself for all those points I’ve wasted throughout the week just like any other regatta. But overall, I’m stoked. And exhausted. And in pain. And just want to go home. It’s a weird mix of emotions when I come up the ramp for the last time.

Arthur and Belinda have coached and mentored me since I was 15 years old and were some of the first people to greet me on the ramp after racing.
Huge congratulations to Buhli for sailing an amazing regatta
Sam accidentally grabbing my sore shoulder!

About the shoulder – When I got back to Perth, I went straight to my WAIS Doctor and I had another cortisone shot put right down on the nerve this time. I got on some new medication and after about a week the pain was next to nothing and I could start to lay down when I went to sleep. In summary my supra scapula nerve had suffered some trauma, whether from a virus or inflammation they’re not sure but either way, that why my shoulder couldn’t rotate. The signal from my brain wasn’t getting through to my infraspinatus muscle, which has seriously atrophied now. I’m on a physio program to help get it back but it might take 6 months or more until it’s close to normal. At least the pain is gone now. Nerve pain is no joke!

The Amigos

It’s only fair that after a long summer I name the people that really helped my campaign and made it a success. I know it wouldn’t have been half as fun or rewarding if these people weren’t apart of it.

Coaches: Rafa, Blackers, Arthur, Belinda, Tristan, Palky, Ben and Ash. All of these amazing people helped contribute to my sailing a lot over my life and have shaped who I am today. This is a team sport played on an individual level. I know I wouldn’t be here or be the sailor I am without them.

Team mates – Kenno, Wearny, Finn, TB, Jezza, EJ, Zac, Wongy, Ricko. All these blokes have put in massive hours with me sailing and have become some of my best friends. I hope I have had as positive influence on you as you guys have had on me.

Friends & Family – Kate & Fitzy. Ben & Kath. Greg & George. Meechy. Liza. Elyse. The Duncan Family. The Lloyd Family. Mum & Dad and everyone else who came along for the ride, hosted me, let me use their home gym, fed me, was a friend to me and supported me this summer and on every other occasion, a massive thank you. You all enrich my life and make the whole experience what it is. The sailing is just a bonus.  



the state of remaining in existence or operation.
"his interests encouraged him to favour the continuance of war" 

“If in doubt, don’t tack”

One of Stewart Walkers golden rules of racing and one that guided me through my choices off the water as well. I had been having a tough time deciding what the future would hold for me after the 2019 season had ended but this simple idea ended up having a big influence. I’ve been living for the last seven years what my dream was as a teenager, and even though it has its challenges and differences to what I might have imagined it would be like, it is ultimately exactly what I asked for. ‘Tacking’ away from my Laser sailing would be walking away from my Olympic dream after so much struggle to get to this position in the first place. Once made, the decision to continue has been a simple one and has given my life clarity again. The last few months have been some of the most enjoyable of my sailing career, and now, on the cusp of doing my 8th Laser World Championships, and first in Australian waters, I couldn’t be more excited.

Staying true to this blog though, I’ll keep it chronological and go back to where I left off in September:

After I had decided to continue in the Laser, I had to start thinking about how I was going to do it? I didn’t want to fall into the same traps as I had in the past, I wanted to do it a bit different this time, using the experience I had gained from the past 10 + years of competing. The aim was simplicity and enjoyment.

Some fun, windy sessions out at Freo, just like the old days

Perth: After Esperance I went back to Perth and found myself with time on my hands for once. Out of habit or maybe because I truly wanted to, I started going to training at FSC again, just like I used to when I first moved to Perth. I wasn’t really thinking too far ahead with it, I was just doing it and found myself really falling in love with the sport again.

The boys lining up on a smokey Sydney Harbour

Sydney: Whether I was ready or not, the last two weeks of October was spent at Middle Harbor Yacht Club training with Matt and Finn. It had a very different feel to it with there only being three of us there, but none the less it was a productive camp. The strength was starting to come back and the feel in the boat was getting better.

Perth: Back West again for two weeks. I used this time to continue my training from Sydney. My fitness and boat feel were way off what I wanted and this was a great chance to improve those things in the best training ground in the world. Also, Perth in summer time is just the best place to be, sailing or not.

The strongest wind I have ever sailed in. A classic Melbourne SW front with an initial gust of 52 knots!!

Melbourne: Starting to get real now. The last two weeks of November was spent training at Sandringham with some of the worlds best. We had almost 30 boats which consisted of the Scandinavians, Kiwis and some European and American teams. 5 days of training was backed up by the Victorian State Championships, where I finished 9th with a confidence boosting win on the last race. That was then followed by a brutal four-day coaches regatta, mostly in strong winds and with long days. Great conditioning but once again, I was feeling my fitness still wasn’t in place yet.

On my way to winning the last race of Victoria Laser States
Last day of our coaches regatta in Melbourne. I’m second from right with Phillip Buhl (GER) and Wearny close by
TB at the moth worlds. Had the chance to coach him and Chewy the weekend before racing kicked off. He ended up finishing 3rd!

Perth (Again!!): Returning to Perth was signing off on a solid six-week block of training. It was time for a rest from the Laser and to enjoy some much-needed therapy (time on the golf course). The Moth World Championships were in Perth as well so it was a great chance to catch up with friends and watch some of the best foilers around do their thing. I couldn’t just take the whole month of December off though so I made sure I got another five-day block in, just to top up the tank before I checked out for Christmas. It was getting close to business time now.

Christmas day sunset – Esperance

Esperance: Now was time for some much-needed family time. It would be the first Elliott Christmas with myself and two sisters there in ten years, so safe to say it was a special time. I even got out on a Laser, (sorry fam), but for a different kind of training. This was more of a nostalgic throwback to my high school days when I used to sail around the bay for hours on end by myself. Plus, the seabreezes in Esperance are epic and it’d be a shame to waste such a good opportunity to get out there. I obviously also got plenty of golf in and made some new friends while at it. It was a great holiday and just what I needed.

Classic Esperance Seabreeze
Watt bike sets on the deck
Radio tower – Nullarbor roadhouse

The Nullarbor: Now was my time to drive back to Melbourne (so much back and forth this summer!!). I had my car loaded with my toys and I set out for the three-day journey across the country. I’ve done the drive two times before but this was my first alone. Not that that’s much of a problem for me, I like road trips, they help clear my head. I was sleeping rough as well with my sleeping bag and camp bed wherever I decided to pull up which added to the experience. I even managed to play a couple of holes worth of the Nullarbor Golf Links, the worlds longest golf course.

Smoke from the worst bushfires Australia has ever had on day one of racing. Air quality was at hazardous levels for quite a few days in Melbourne this summer

Australian Laser Nationals: Finally!! The racing. Months of prepping and planning and thinking had finally come to a head and it was time to see where I was at. We had the strongest nationals’ fleet in recent memory competing with 70 sailors lining up at the start, including the kiwis, Americans and Dutch teams. I started with a 16th and 25th ☹ funny old game. This was not the start I was hoping for. Fortunately, I was able to adjust quickly and got on a run over the next 7 races to move through the fleet into 4th going into the final day. It was tight, and there was a chance to move up or down on the scoreboard but unfortunately, I made the worst of it and fell to 8th. I didn’t have a disastrous day so much, but my close competition had much better days and that made all the difference. Still, I managed to take some confidence away from the event and felt good about the next one to come.

My one race win at Nationals came on the lightest and least predictable race of the event
Day three of sail Melbourne

Sail Melbourne: After a few easier days of training and some time spent with friends (I was living with Jez and Eliza for a week) it was time to race again. It took a good few days to feel fully recovered after the Nationals so I only spent two days in the boat before the event started but my mind felt ready to pick up where I left off. The fleet was about 70 strong again but much deeper in competition with the British, Scandinavian, French and other various European teams representing. It would be a real test of what the worlds would be like in a couple weeks time. I got off to a hot start, leading around the top mark in race one and finished with a 5th in challenging conditions. The next day of racing wasn’t as successful but some great comebacks and a good attitude kept me in the game to move up later with a 18, 3, 19. The conditions became quite tough for the race committee after that with us only getting another three races in for the event. My consistency was paying off though, banking a 2, 10 the next two races pulled me up into 6th with a chance to move up or down again on the last day, just like at nationals. This time I held my nerve and put another solid score on the board with an 11th, which was enough to jump to 3rd overall with my competition all having bad races. I was stoked to be on the podium in such a tough event and it was a good confidence booster in the last event before the worlds.

Leading race one of Sail Melbourne in an unusually strong SE breeze. I would finish up fifth
Keeping a close eye on the competition
From left: Elliot Hansen (GBR), Matt Wearn (AUS) Jean-Baptist Bernaz (FRA), Me, Duko Boss (NED)

Perth (Again, again!!): Time to have a break from Melbourne and refresh. I only had ten days back west but I needed them. The weather was gorgeous and sunny and I was home at the perfect time to watch the Warren Jones Regatta being hosted right in front of the city. The thought of the worlds being only a few days away was never far from my mind.

Melbourne (the last dance): I returned fresh and ready to race. I’ve completed three days on the water and I can honestly say I’ve never felt so good. Not just in speed but in my attitude and decision making. Maybe the event will be a flop but it won’t be from a lack of effort and preparation. I’m very excited to see how things play out.

Second to last training session before racing kicks off. Everything going great so far

See you on the other side,