March 20, 2013
This past January three members of the Boston College sailing community qualified for the women's national team. Two alumni, Annie Haeger and Briana Provancha, who both graduated a year ago, and freshman Erika Reinke will represent the United States in sailing.
For all three, the dream of reaching the national team has been a driving force from a young age. Now that they are on the team, they have set their sights on the next goal: A gold medal.
"The overall goal is to win a gold medal," Haeger said. "That's what I have been dreaming about since I was a little girl and I just want to keep chasing that dream."
It was an intense competition to qualify for the team at the Miami World Cup almost two months ago. Reinke said that it was an extremely stressful environment as the competition was tremendous and everybody knew what was at stake. She doesn't want to have to deal with the stress levels that come with qualifying again in the near future but she knows that going up against the best will only make her a better sailor.
Boston College head sailing coach Greg Wilkinson knows that the majority of sailing prior to college is mainly focused on the individual, so he has made it a point to get his sailors to buy into the team program from the moment they step on campus. He relies on the captains and upperclassmen to help and the results are undeniable, as the Eagles have taken home more national championships than any other sailing program in the nation over the last six years.
Haeger credits the team dynamic at the Heights for improving her sailing and making her ready to take the next step to the national team. She also cited Wilkinson as a major influence on her sailing.
"Coach taught me pretty much everything," Haeger said. "He is a sailing coach and a life coach who set me up mentally and physically to be able to make the next jump to the Olympic level."
Though she is only a freshman, Reinke has also seen the team aspect that Wilkinson brings to the Eagles as a new, positive change to the way she sails. Before coming to BC, Reinke said she was always sailing for herself even when she was on a team because it was about improving her time. Now, she can feel how everybody works together and has each other's backs so she knows she is not on the water alone. She feels like the team is a family and she wants to learn to be a leader of that close group as she grows in the program.
"It will be difficult in a sense because I have always been self-centered when sailing," Reinke said. "I am hoping I can show my teammates that I am here to push myself and I am here to push them and I want to push everybody to be the best they can."
Reinke got some advice from the other members of the Boston College community who will be joining her on the national team. While they were in Miami, Haeger, Provancha and Reinke had dinner together. The older sailors were eager to help out the younger Eagle with any advice they could give her.
"They are great resources to have," Reinke said. "They're definitely leaders for me. They are very approachable and I'm sure I can come to them with any problem and they will help me. It's nice to have somebody from BC who also shares my passion whom I know I can approach."
The main advice they gave Reinke, and something she realized through her experience in Miami, is to work on her fitness. They gave her strategies on gaining weight while letting her know that it is not as easy as it sounds, and can take a while. In order to get in better shape, Reinke plans to bike, lift, stretch and work on her nutrition. She said she can't be on what she called the "high-school diet" anymore.
Provancha also mentioned that she and Haeger emphasized the importance of every single practice.
"We told her to make the most of every practice," Provancha said. "As a freshman, sailing can be monotonous since you go from sailing two or three days a week in high school to six days a week in college. It's the exact same thing every day so it's hard to stay efficient and get better. It's about doing things on your own. It took me my whole time at BC to get that so we want to get her to know that."
While Reinke probes Haeger and Provancha for knowledge, Haeger sees her relative lack of experience as a big challenge on the national team. She says that most of the other sailors are about 30 years old and had have had a lot more time in the boat. Luckily, she will be sharing a boat with Provancha, which she thinks will give them a distinct advantage.
"She is one of my best friends and it means the world to me that we can be on the same boat competing," Haeger said. "We have really good chemistry and we are working on our communication in the boat. I think that is something that really helps. As soon as you can have non-verbal communication and know what the other person is going to do while being on the same page in every aspect that is going to help."
The camaraderie the two former Eagles feel goes both ways, as Provancha refers to Haeger as her sister and says there is nobody she would rather share a boat with.
"Having the college experience together means you know a lot about the person," Provancha said. "You spend a lot of time with the person. You live with them, you work with them, you travel together; it's like you're in a relationship. You really have to have an understanding for each other and respect them a lot."
As Wilkinson works to continue the success of the BC sailing program, he keeps looking for the traits that Haeger, Provancha and Reinike bring to the table. It is these traits that he believes separates them from the pack and makes them exceptional student-athletes.
"They are all extremely enjoyable to work with," Wilkinson said. "They all present different coaching challenges, but they share an excellent attitude, especially toward the work that it takes to accomplish the results they've had. If you have the right attitude combined with a little bit of talent and a ton of drive, you can accomplish a lot of great things."