Wow. There is no more “__ Days Until Rio!” countdown, the races are finished, and our boats are packed tight in the container leaving Rio de Janeiro. The 2016 Olympic Games are over and it has been the most awe-inspiring experience of our lives.
Given our past performances, our goal was to qualify for the medal race (essentially “the finals”), meaning a top-ten finish. We were ranked 19th in the world before the Games, and 13th out of the teams at the Games. By finishing 10th, we exceeded expectations.
Meeting that top-ten goal came down to the last race of the preliminary series, and we are proud to say that we performed under pressure and achieved that goal. We entered the medal race in 9th place and didn’t sail our best in the medal race, so we slipped to 10th, but being part of the first-ever FX Olympic medal race was an experience we’ll never forget. There were helicopters overhead, thousands of people cheering and waving flags on Flamengo Beach, dozens of media boats, and a strong, shifty breeze on the Pao course underneath Sugarloaf Mountain.
There’s no way you can completely prepare for the Olympic experience, because it is unlike any other. This was a massive event; sailing alone had 10 medal events with 380 sailors, from 66 nations, racing 274 boats. On top of staying in the Olympic Village, other differences were that every day the beach was packed with spectators and the boatpark was full of volunteers and media.
Our highlight was winning race 5, and even better, it was internationally televised on NBC! That whole race was such a rush, and to have top-five finishes before and after definitely made it our favorite day.
“Obrigada” (thank you) Brazil for pulling together an outstanding event and “obrigada” to Guanabara Bay for perhaps the best sailing conditions we’ve ever had at a regatta. We leave Rio with memories of a place unlike any other – from marmosets at the boatpark, to capybaras at the Olympic Village and acai, well, everywhere. Thank you Brazil and all of the Rio 2016 volunteers, because the world can learn a lot from your positivity and openness and the heart, passion and energy you bring to everything you do.
Congratulations to the medalists, Martine & Kahena of Brazil, Alex & Molly of New Zealand, and Jena & Katja of Denmark. To wake up the day after the event and see the golden girls Martine and Kahena all over the Rio newspapers was inspiring. After being your competitors and seeing how hard you work, we couldn’t be happier for you.
Rewinding… Four years ago, after the efforts of several determined people including Helena’s coach Jen Morgan Glass, it was announced that a new boat design, the 49erFX, would be in the 2016 Olympics. That summer 2012, we each got our hands on a boat and got a taste of the speed and fun. Somehow Luther Carpenter and Charlie McKee of the US Sailing Team saw something in the nonchalant 17-year-old and 20-year-old who had been sailing for barely five years. In March 2013, we teamed up for a US Sailing Team training camp in Miami and never looked back.
When we first started campaigning, we had the frustration of never being able to sail more than 5 days between events due to school schedules, but we also had the gratification of a quick learning curve and a lot of fun. We learned a lot while juggling boats and cars on three continents, creating a joint bank account and turning our campaign into our round-the-clock job.
We put everything into chasing this dream. Every day we woke up with the purpose of making ourselves better, better than yesterday. When things got hard we leaned on each other and always sought to absorb the lessons. We wouldn’t change a thing about our journey. It has been an honor to represent the US Sailing Team and the United States of America. This achievement is not just ours, it’s for everyone who believed in us.
And now we will attempt to name some of them, but really, there are too many contributors to name here:
To our teammates and coaches from Seattle, San Diego, Stanford and Charleston and the US Sailing Team Sperry and US Sailing Development Program, we wouldn’t be here without you. We want to congratulate Caleb Paine for his bronze medal in the Finn class! All of our teammates inspired us over the past four years and it is an honor to be on a team with them.
To the organizers of the 49er/49erFX class, and those responsible for getting the FX into the Olympic Games, thank you for the unforgettable events and unparalleled event coverage.
To all of our competitors in the 49erFX class (and friends in all of the other Olympic sailing classes), thanks for all the good times on and off the water. It is such a gift to have friends from all over the world!
To the organizations that have supported us for at least the last 3 years: The US Olympic Committee, St Francis Yacht Club, San Diego Yacht Club, Seattle Yacht Club, Coronado Yacht Club, and Oakcliff Sailing Center.
To the foundations that granted us the opportunities to continue to train and improve: St Francis Sailing Foundation, Sailing Foundation of New York, Seattle Yacht Club Foundation, and the Northern California Olympians & Paralympians Foundation.
To our main sponsor Expedia, while we found the best path on the racecourse, you found our best path around the world and got us there. Thank you for the adventures, because without your generosity this could have been a very different story.
To our sponsors Spinnaker Watches, Oakley, and Avasol, for the high performance watches, sunglasses, and sunscreen that we can take from land to the water and back again.
To the sponsors and supporters of the US Sailing Team: Sperry, Sunbrella, Groupe Beneteau, Harken, McLube, and partner clubs New York YC, St Francis YC, Sailing Foundation of New York, Cal YC, and American YC, for their sustained support and unwavering commitment to US sailors’ excellence in elite international competition.
To our parents, Dan Clarkson, Dean Brenner and the SFNY team, and the Downing family who all helped us tremendously with our fundraising efforts, allowing us to focus more on sailing.
To the family, friends, and fans all over the country (and in fact, the world) who have donated to help us achieve our dream. From crowdfunding on RallyMe.com to mailed letters and yacht club fundraisers… Winning that Olympic race was for you!
To the best support team in the world – The US Sailing Team Sperry staff: Meredith, Josh, Martha, Kate, Will, Dave D, our sport psychologist Jerry May, the Porto Charitas family and chefs, our trainers and physiotherapists Dr. Chris Herrera and Trey Watson of Jaguar Therapeutics and Dr. Chris Ellis and Dr. Julio Pardave. Thanks for working tirelessly on our behalf and always making it fun.
To our past coaches Ramon Oliden, Luther Carpenter, Pete Spaulding, and Charlie McKee, for their patience and expert advice. We have so much respect and admiration for you that just knowing you were willing to spend time with us instilled a deep inner confidence in us.
To our coach, Willie McBride, who has doubled as our photographer and videographer, and even vlogger, who manages to track the tiniest details of each race, mast tensions, and hours on the water but still see the big picture and stay so chill on the water. We can’t wait to see how you transform skiff sailing in this country.
To our families, who have been with us from our first sailing days ever to on the beach during the medal race in Rio, and everything in between. Thanks for your patience when we found ourselves in the hospital, had empty bank accounts, had one-track minds, and missed your birthdays, graduations, and holidays.
What’s next? Paris has already restarted class for her undergraduate degree at the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina. Helena returns to Stanford in a couple of weeks to finish her Master’s degree. We are recharging and catching up in other areas of our lives so that we can return to the water ready to push it to the next level. Follow our Facebook page and subscribe to this blog (on the right hand side of this page) to stay in the loop.
We will always be grateful and we look forward to giving back to this community that came around us. We can’t say it enough – Thank you everyone!
Paris & Helena
Big lump in throat! What a wonderful summation of the years of teamwork behind your achievements. It’s been so exciting and fascinating to watch the HenkenScutt duo strive for and reach their goals. We add our congratulations to all the others you have received for what you and your team have achieved. Thrilling!
Awesome! So proud of you both!!
Thank you, Rio for an incredible fortnight and thank you HenkenScuttSailing, for making us the proudest family on the beach! You are an inspiration and deserve every ounce of the satisfaction you must feel after three complex years of goal setting, pushing hard daily, and culminating in this success – tenth – WOW! I’m still tingling. Enjoy your rest. xxx
WoW. Wonderful job Helena & Paris!★! I am so inspired reading your story. I missed U at the Olympic Games because I didn’t know about U yet. I discovered U from a story featuring U Helena in Seattle Magazine, August 2016. So I looked U up online and was delighted to find your beautiful shares about your Olympic experience. I am a recreational sailer. I had tears of joy reading about your adventure, goals, hard work and accomplishments. I am 61 and you inspire me how to go after my dreams and goals. I am especially touched from how perfectly connective you have written about your experiences. Gifting gratitude and appreciation for everyone who is a part of your experiences. Thank U Thank U Thank U ♥)))))))))) WELL DONE ★☆★ U go Girls!
Thank you for your kind note! You can continue to follow my sailing at gulariscuttracing.com and facebook.com/gulariscutt. I am now sailing a different type of boat called the Nacra 17. Paris is continuing college at the College of Charleston and she’s competing on their varsity sailing team. Thanks again for your comment!