Interview with Sarah Douglas

How did you get involved with sailing? My brother started, and I followed. Growing up on the island of Barbados meant that the ocean was in our backyard.

Where was your first international regatta? I competed at the 2004 Optimist World Championships in Ecuador when I was only 10 years old. I didn’t do well but it was a very fun experience for me.

What made you make the transition from an Opti to a Laser Radial instead of a double-handed boat, for example? I enjoyed sailing alone and calling the shots at that point. Seemed like an easy step up for me.

What has kept you sailing the Laser Radial since then? My sailing career hasn’t exactly been smooth. After being successful as a youth athlete and going to the Youth Olympic Games in the Byte CII, I came second at the Canadian Youth Championships in 2010 and decided I was going to step away from racing. I stopped for a couple of years and filled my summers coaching Optis, traveling, and volleyball camp. I came back in 2014 with a new-found drive and an Olympic dream.

Were there any sailors that you strived to be like when you were first getting involved? Like any younger sibling, I always wanted to be like my brother. I looked up to him a lot when we first started sailing and still do to this day.

Why did you decide to train with International Sailing Academy? The setup with International Sailing Academy is fantastic; food, charter boat, accommodation, and high-quality coaching all wrapped into one. The ISA approach to technique development is advanced, they even use drone footage for debriefing starts and tactics. Not to mention the incredible sailing venue they have in Mexico.

How long have you trained with them and how has that experience affected your sailing? My first camp at ISA was in December 2014 and I have come back every year since then, sometimes a few times in the winter. Every camp I have been to, I continue to learn so much. The clockwork conditions in Mexico enable the sailors to practice in similar conditions every day, which allows them to make real progress in the skills they are working on. The head coach Vaughn Harrison is my coach throughout the year as well. Vaughn has a holistic approach that has helped transform me as an athlete and a person.

In just the last year, you’ve made quite a jump in your performance at international events – from finishing 36th and 37th at the early 2018 World Cup events to finishing in the top 10 at the last three events you’ve sailed. What has changed for you? Early 2018 World Cups events didn’t go to plan due to a couple of mental challenges and missing puzzle pieces. After those events, I identified what was missing and put the puzzle back together. I would say my mindset and the way I approach my sailing also has changed since then.

The Hempel Sailing World Championship was the ultimate event of the year, and an opportunity to qualify Canada for the 2020 Olympics. How did you prepare for the event, and how did you maintain your focus and performance at such a high-pressure event? I prepared for the Hempel Sailing World Championships like any other event, it was important for us to get venue training and learn about the venue beforehand, not only about the wind conditions and geography, but learning about all the logistics of a new place is important as well. Where we would live, where is the closest gym, the grocery store, etc. I maintained focus and performance acting as if it was any other regatta and keeping to my routine.

As you’re competing in a very talented and experienced fleet of Radial sailors, how do you work at minimizing mistakes and maintaining mental composure on the race course? The Radial fleet is very fast and smart; I focus on execution and staying level-headed. If you are to make a mistake, you need to continue racing with urgency. My coach and I call this “Pac-Man mentality,” chasing each boat one by one until you cross the finish line.

What are your plans for 2019 on your road to Tokyo? What do you need to work on and what are your goals? This year is an increase of traveling and training for me. I will be spending more time learning about the Olympic venue and this year is about execution. I am focused on our Olympic trials and qualifying myself for Tokyo at the 2019 World Championships.

Young Canadian sailors likely look up to you as a role model, do you still coach youth sailing anymore? If not, do you have any advice for young sailors? I coach youth sailing when I have time in my schedule. Last year I coached the provincial sailing team, along with the youth racing team at my home club: Ashbridge’s Bay Yacht Club. My advice is to have fun, make sure you are enjoying it. This is something I stopped doing and inevitably led me to quitting sailing at young age.

What was your most difficult regatta and why? The most recent Hempel World Cup Series: Miami was probably the most challenging regatta for me. The light and shifty winds with clouds that weren’t always predictable made it to be very mentally challenging. The very first race of the regatta I scored 46 which meant it was my drop score, I had to fight hard for every point moving forward.

Before you finished your marketing degree, what was it like to juggle being a student and sailing at such a high level? Being a student athlete is always a challenge. The travel demands of sailing and the school commitments made it difficult to manage. In order for me to travel for sailing, I took reduced course loads throughout the year and took an online course or two in the summer; finishing my degree in 5 years instead of 4. I became very good with time management and organization, but I would say one of the hardest parts for me was the social aspect. I couldn’t do what all of my friends were doing; I couldn’t stay up late to watch a movie with them, I couldn’t go out to a bar on a Friday night, I couldn’t go on spring break with them. Personally, that was the biggest challenge for me while at university.

What is your favorite activity/hobby outside of sailing? Cooking and trying different foods is probably my favourite thing to do. I am a huge foodie, so I enjoy trying new recipes and when I travel, I really like to try the local cuisine.

How do you like to spend your free time when you’re not sailing? I travel so much these days that when I’m not sailing, I spend a lot of time with friends and family.

Where is your favorite place that you have travelled to for sailing? I have been so very lucky to have travelled a lot so far in my life, but I would say my favourite place has been Singapore. I went for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games. It is so beautiful and a very clean city which I love. Singapore has some really cool architecture and I would highly recommend traveling there if you ever get the chance.