Competition. Sports. Pride. Ambition. Practice. Patience. All the qualities’ we all admire when we watch those athletes from all over the world that have that common bond, the love of their sport. That is why we are drawn to watching the Olympics each day. But all these well trained sports machines in human form have teams of experts leading them on their journey to achieving that gold medal. Many athletes have been groomed in their sport of choice ha ha since very young children. I believe the ultimate competition is when you compete with the forces of nature unassisted by any expert and only judged by God.
I am talking about a sailing race and it is not the famous American Cup. It is called the Vendee Globe Endurance Race. It is a round the world single handed yacht race sailed non-stop and without assistance. The race was founded by Philippe Jeantot in 1989. Since 1992 it has taken place every 4 years. As the only single-handed round the world nonstop race, it is regarded as the ultimate in ocean racing. This race is so demanding that fewer than 100 people have ever completed it. Some men have died trying. As dangerous as it is physically, the biggest challenge may be mental being alone in the sea for 90 days.
I love to go sailing. To be out where the sky meets the sea and all is blue above you and below you. It is a humbling experience where all the importance and pompousness you may have think you had is gone because you are now just a floating speck in vast wide waters. This is the most treacherous race you probably never heard of and puts all those Olympic wonder people aside in endurance and spunk. This sailboat race is more than 26 thousand miles around the world through gale force winds and Antarctic storms. Dodging icebergs and whales and giant waves that can capsize your boat. There are competitors that are still lost at sea and the last race was in 2012.
The race goes on for three grueling months with no stops allowed. Touch land and you are disqualified. Half of the about 20 boats that begin the race never finish. Despite the weather and the challenges of the sea, the biggest challenge is your mental state during the process. You are not racing with the support system of coaches and hugs and accolades after each moment as in the Olympics. You do not have a crew of 20 or 10 or 5 people or anyone to prepare a meal or give you a bathroom break or even steer so you can sleep. You are alone at sea. Not even a larger vessel keeping watch over you nearby, nothing but you and your God.
Three months of you and you alone at sea. Why do it? Well not many have done it. There have been more than three thousand people who have climbed Mount Everest, more than 600 people that have been into outer space but less than 100 people that have successfully completed this race. The Olympic Games have been around since ancient Greek civilization. The route for this race does not take place in some city chosen by an Olympic Committee but is a global route. It starts off the coast of France.You travel south in the Atlantic Ocean make a left below Africa go through what sailors call the Southern Ocean under Antarctica which is one of the most dangerous places on the planet , turn left at South America and go north back to France.
Having to go such a great distance half way around the world alone you then are faced with not only being the Skipper but the First Mate and the Mechanic and the Carpenter. If something goes wrong, you have to know the problem and fix the problem. Imagine having to climb up 100 feet above to fix your mast? The sailboat you need costs about 4 Million dollars and is only 60 feet long and not a luxury fitted space. The toilet is a bucket that you chuck it. You would only dare to sleep 20 minutes at a time every 3=4 hours and that is if the sea is calm. Yes, this is more about survival than a sport.
The fact is that you simply cannot afford to be asleep at the wheel especially when the race gets below South Africa through Antarctic waters where 50 foot waves can wash over your boat and it is freezing cold and you are 2,000 miles from land well out of the range of any rescue helicopter. If you fall off the side of the boat in a single handed race as this is, you are dead and three daring men have died. The Olympics is all about face to face contact and we learn of fabulous athletes from all over the world. This sport has no face to face with anyone. This is absolutely the toughest competition in the world but all athletes should be respected for the five words I began this blog post with.
The Olympics represent competition at the highest level. Sports psychologists prep athletes all the time before their races. The competitors have extreme will or anger or just extreme want to be the best at their task . We could all learn more from their ambition and get off the couch after we burp that beer off while watching them be extreme and get in shape for spring. Thank you Winter Olympics.