Racing to Rio: Sailors Suit Up for the Summer Games

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The College of Charleston sailing team has a storied history of success that spans the globe. In 2014-15, the College won the Leonard B. Fowle Trophy awarded to the best team at the national championships for the sixth time in school history. With six titles, the College trails only the U.S. Naval Academy (10) and Tufts University (8) in the number of times it has won the award.

However, the success of College of Charleston sailors has extended beyond our borders. For the seventh consecutive Summer Olympic Games, the team will be represented at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Photo by Michael Wiser
CofC Sailing practice (Photo by Michael Wiser)

Two current members of the team, Stefano Peschiera from Peru and Enrique Arathoon from El Salvador, excelled in international competitions to earn spots in Rio 2016. Each of them is the first man to qualify as an individual sailor from either of their respective countries.

Both will sail lasers in the games, a class of sailboat with one standard size that is a bit shorter than 14 feet and weighs just 130 pounds. Due to their light weight, racing lasers comes with a unique set of challenges that require an advanced level of physical fitness in order to endure techniques necessary to get upwind quickly. As the fleet with the most competitors on the Olympic circuit, it is the toughest regatta of the games.

With their berths, they join Jim Brady (1992), John Llovell (1996, ’00, ’04 and ’08) and Juan Maegli (2008, ‘12, ’16) as the only sailors from the College to compete in the Summer Games. Maegli has blazed the trail for international success for this current crop of skilled sailors.

A 2013 graduate, Maegli has already been the flag bearer for Guatemala in the 2012 opening ceremony, the 2013 Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association sailor of the year, and a gold medal winner in the 2015 Pan-American games as a laser sailor.

Arathoon at a sailing practice this Fall.
Arathoon at a sailing practice this Fall. (Photo courtesy of CofCSports.com)

In a recent interview, Arathoon credited Maegli as the biggest reason he ended up at the College.

“Juan was my former teammate. He came here and told me it was a very good school and the sailing program is one of the best in the country. I got accepted to other schools here (in the United States) but Charleston was in the top of my list because Juan was here so we could train together; so I was excited to come here.”

Though Maegli was instrumental in getting him to the College, Peschiera has been the biggest source of competition. The two spend a lot of time together and push each other to be their best.

“I go cycling with Enrique a bunch,” Peschiera said. “We sail with the team Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, then Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays it’s lasers. So we sail together six days a week and we work out the same six days, then Monday is our rest day. So between that and school, we don’t do anything else.”

This drive for success helped Peschiera become the sixth sailor from the College to win the ICSA men’s singlehanded national title last November – an especially remarkable feat considering it was the first semester of his freshman year. For many, this would be the achievement of a lifetime. However, when asked about his greatest moments as a sailor, the achievement was merely an afterthought.

Peschiera’s Pursuit

Photo by Michael Wiser
Peschiera at a sailing practice this fall. (Photo by Michael Wiser)

Born in Lima, Peru, Peschiera learned English while attending a British boarding school. Though sailing professionally after high school was an option for him, his father, who attended Berkeley and Stanford, stressed to him the importance of higher education.

“I did my first semester in Peru. It was an engineering semester. But they were not going to be able to help me with catching up after missing so many classes for events. So I had to come abroad to keep the level to qualify for the games.”

So how does someone become an Olympic level sailor?

For Peschiera, it all began on optimists, also known as optis – a fleet of fiberglass singlehanded dinghies, no larger than eight feet in length.

“I sailed optis for about eight years until I was 15. My last two years were pretty hard for me because the other people were a lot lighter than I was, so I had to stick to my head, with tactics and strategy to compensate for the difference in weight.”

Because optis are so small, people who reach the weight limit before they reach the age limit often switch to a bigger boat. Not Peschiera.

“Since it’s a boat that is so small, a difference in 10 or 20 pounds, or in my case 30, would make a huge difference in the performance and speed of the boat. It’s like running with a parachute behind you. But once you get to the bigger boat, where everyone weighs the same, you will be faster because you will take advantage of every opportunity.”

The focus on nautical stratagem has paid off. Once he moved up to the larger boats, he excelled, winning national and South American titles sailing the laser.

His success caught the attention of world class coach Airam Rodrigues when the two met at a sailing clinic in Peru three years ago. Previously the coach of a Spanish Olympian who reached number three in the world rankings, Rodrigues moved on after coming up short on a medal in Beijing and London.

“He came to me and said ‘I believe in you. You have the potential to win a medal in Tokyo in 2020. So this will be an 8 year project.’ So our main goal was to qualify for the Rio Olympic Games. Then once I’m done with school, prepare to try to win a medal in Tokyo, which is pretty probable.”

When asked to choose which achievements beyond qualifying for the Olympics stood out to him as his best, Peschiera said:

“Finishing third at the under 21 worlds last year in France, because that’s the generation that I will go into the 2020 Olympic games with… It really opened my eyes to see that I can be third in the world.”

With such potential for greatness, he hopes to make an impact on the sailing culture of Peru.

“I am really proud to represent my country,” he said. “I feel like it’s a big responsibility, especially coming from a country like mine, where the main sport is soccer. So it is really tough to make some other sport highlight in the news. So we have been trying to make other sports more common in the country, so it is not all soccer.”

His sense of national pride manifested itself in his choice of which country to represent in the games.

“I have a double nationality; I have an Italian passport as well, since my dad is from Italy, so I could represent either Peru or Italy. I decided Peru because I want to be the anomalous result and make an impression.”

Peschiera is one of seven qualifiers for Peru for the summer games. His choice to stick to his birth country has paid off in more ways than one.

“I’m the highest paid athlete in Peru, but it’s all to cover my expenses. I get almost 100 percent coverage on
everything. At the beginning it was just my family, but since we have been getting results and working seriously the government has put us at the highest level where almost everything is paid for.”

Peschiera is not alone in his pursuit of an Olympic medal. In addition to the government funding and the coaching from Rodrigues, he has his health is monitored by Health & Sport of the Canary Islands.

“They help me physically, psychologically and they help with nutrition. While I am here in Charleston, I have to send them all of my heart rate belt things so they can analyze them. So they can be like, tomorrow you’re going to do less work because you are too tired, or you’re going to do more work because you’re not that tired.”

This team approach gives Peschiera very little say in his day to day activities.

“I have an Excel spreadsheet with every single day what I have to do until I head to Rio. So it’s kind of like, I can’t decide much about it. If we want to make any changes we have to talk to the team.”

With such close attention paid to his every move, he will take extra precautions when he arrives to Rio.

“At the PanAm games, at the village, everything was crazy since many people have competitions that last just one day,” he said. “Nearly the whole Olympic Games is our regatta, so we need to rest every single day, we can’t party, we can’t do anything. So having people screaming around your room isn’t the best thing, so a lot of people decide to just stay in their own homes.”

With so much put upon him, it is only natural to feel nervous.

“The butterflies in my stomach happen all the time, especially before a regatta. But what helps with that is when you have been training a bunch and you know what you are doing.”

But Peschiera is just one part of this dynamic Olympic duo. These two champions of the sport are close friends who can be seen on any given day biking around Charleston together. In fact, Peschiera served as a translator for the interview with Arathoon.

Aranthoon’s Ambitions

Enrique Arathoon (Photo courtesy of CofCSports.com)
Enrique Arathoon (Photo courtesy of CofCSports.com)

Arathoon, like Peschiera, had a choice for where he wanted to represent in the Summer Games.

“I am from Guatemala City, and have lived there all my life. My mom is from El Salvador so I have double citizenship and chose to represent El Salvador for sailing.”

He, like so many others began his sailing career in optis. Though unlike Peschiera, he did not begin racing in competitions until moving up to larger boats.

“I started sailing seriously in 2009, when I competed on the Volvo youth worlds in Brazil,” he said. “There is no high school sailing in Guatemala, the only sailing club is the National Sailing Federation.”

After graduating from high school, he took a two year break from his education to campaign for the London Olympics. “I had a big debate whether to start school or just go into full time sailing,” he said. “I chose to go to college, but I still want to become a pro after I graduate.”

Thanks to this break in his studies, Arathoon, 23, is only a junior. Though what he lacks in course credits, he makes up for with top level results.

Last year he claimed the Bronze medal at the Central American and Caribbean Games. To him, it is his greatest achievement aside from qualifying for Rio because it was the first time El Salvador medaled in sailing at the games.

He carried that success over to this year, when he earned his spot in the Summer Games.

“You have 4 chances to end up qualifying. I ended up qualifying at the Pan-Am games for being the best South American not qualified yet in the previous two.”

With such positive results, the Salvadoran’s future looks bright.

“It is really special knowing that you are walking the right track toward achieving the dreams; it’s just one step more of the process.”

Keeping a level head sounds difficult at such a high level of competition, but he is determined to do so.

water. I don’t think the waters were in the best conditions. But now that they got the games, they have put up barriers and they are controlling everything. Everything is way cleaner.”

Whatever the outcome is in Brazil, it’s clear that Arathoon and Peschiera are already writing new chapters in the history of College of Charleston sailing. We wish them all the best as they continue to chase national titles and

“My goal is to take the games as a normal weekend race. At the end of the day it is just one more race, the same format I have been doing the whole time. I want to take full advantage of the opportunity and enjoy it. Right now, I am more excited than nervous, but, I am sure I will be nervous. I get nervous even for a normal weekend regatta. It is part of competing; I think it’s a good thing.”

Arathoon is one of just two Olympic qualifiers from El Salvador for Rio 2016, the other being a shooter in the women’s pistol events.

“Sailing is not very popular in El Salvador; it hasn’t had a huge sailing history… So far! It will be an honor to be the first time a Salvadorian sailor has qualified for the games.”

Photo by Michael Wiser
(Photo by Michael Wiser)

In anticipation of the games, Arathoon will take next semester off to get fully prepared. Peschiera on the other hand, will head to Rio as soon as classes let out in May.

As the games approach, one of the biggest factors that been closely monitored is the water quality. Peschiera, having raced many South American competitions in his career, he knows what he is doing racing in Rio.

“I’ve sailed on the course six times between 2007 and 2010. In one of the events, as a country, we finished in No. 2 in the world,” Peschiera said. “I really like it because it is really unpredictable conditions, and I like to deal with whatever I get without being able to predict it.”

Unpredictable is a grand understatement.

“In 2010, you could see things like couches floating in the water. I don’t think the waters were in the best conditions. But now that they got the games, they have put up barriers and they are controlling everything. Everything is way cleaner.”

Whatever the outcome is in Brazil, it’s clear that Arathoon and Peschiera are already writing new chapters in the history of College of Charleston sailing. We wish them all the best as they continue to chase national titles and Olympic medals.

*This article first appeared in the November 2015 issue of The Yard.

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