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.