written by Dan Self
That’s how long I have until my last chance to qualify Australia for the 2024 Olympics.
280 days to do the unthinkable. People have told me I’m crazy.
Let me take you back to the 15th October 2021. I’m in Hamburg, Germany. After a year since ‘hanging up’ my Laser sailing boots, I had finally done it. I had finally landed a ‘normal job’ in a well paying industry after months of rejected applications. I thought I was never going to get hired, but here I was, finally working.
I was miserable.
Each day I would look out of the office window overlooking Hamburg harbour. The sky was grey and the temperature much closer to 0 than I’m comfortable with. Not the weather that inspires one to want to go sailing. But I couldn’t help it. There was some part of me telling me that I wasn’t supposed to be in that office. Urging me to keep pushing towards my childhood dream.
I felt so conflicted. I had spent so much effort trying to land a job, and I was flat broke. How on earth was I supposed to learn how to kitesurf (let alone foil), and afford an Olympic campaign? No matter how many reasons I could find telling me not to do it, deep down I couldn’t hold back the drive, the flame that pushes you towards something you desire so strongly despite all logic telling you no.
3 days later I told my boss I was quitting. “It’s not you, it’s me” sort of thing. Completely true, but I did feel bad that it had to end that way. From there the journey began.
I couldn’t stay in Germany, I would need to be somewhere warm and with enough wind to get out on the water each day. I eventually got back to Australia. Learn to foil - tick. Do my first regatta - tick. Upgrade equipment - tick. I kept ticking off the low hanging fruit.
Despite making good progress, I knew I would have to go back to Europe and expose myself to the best racers in the world. I threw myself in to the deep end, and did my first international regatta way before I should have. Do I regret it? Not at all, I learnt a lot and met some great people. I was just thankful that I was not back in Hamburg, dreaming about being in the position I found myself in.
Before starting this campaign, I knew it would be hard. All of my competition had been kiting for lifetimes longer than me. But I knew I had one advantage - experience. Experience in Olympic campaigning. One of the things I wish I had done more of in the Laser was seek out coaching. The times when I made the most improvement were when I had private coaching. I didn’t pursue this for long enough because I was scared. Scared of going broke, and scared of doing things differently to how they ‘should be done’.
In Australia, there is a very clear pathway laid out for you if you want to become an Olympic sailor. You work with the national programme, climb the funding/results ladders and eventually you might qualify for the Games. It works extremely well if you’re a gifted sailor and you’re able to prove yourself early.
That’s not me.
I never had good results as a youth sailor, I was never selected for the elite squads. I started working my way in to the system simply through outlasting my counterparts. I’m sure I could do that in kiting as well, but I don’t have the time.
If I want to be on the start line at the 2024 Olympics, I knew I would have to fast track the whole process. Do things like they’ve never been done before. Take the commonly accepted pathway and flip it on its head. If you want to get uncommon results, you have to take uncommon action.
And that’s where I find myself today. About to travel to Spain, with the aim of working with a coach 1-on-1 for the next 279 days. I’m going to be getting the best equipment, and diligently attending selected regattas which will specifically help me towards my goal. Have I somehow become rich and can afford to self fund all of that? Hell no. I have less than $2000 in my bank account.
But that doesn’t matter. I’m going to find a way to make it work.