We spoke with Annapolis Foundation sailor, Casey Cabot about his Olympic campaign which culminated in the 2024 US Olympic Team Trials in Miami, Florida January 13, 2024. Started three years ago, Casey and fellow Boston University sailor Reed Lorimer put together a plan, sacrificed time and money, garnered family support (especially Casey’s Grandmother) and launched their campaign to qualify for the 2024 US Sailing Olympics in the 49er class. This is the story of what Casey learned along the way.
Casey grew up sailing Opti’s and his family’s sailboat at the West River Sailing Club. Later he moved to Annapolis Yacht Club and raced 420’s. His sailing continued in college after which he pitched the idea to his parents that rather than using his new undergraduate degree to launch a career he wanted to put together an Olympic Campaign, an opportunity he would “never get again”.
The 49er skiff was the perfect combination of tough to make go fast and challenging tactically. “If you are not prepared, you’re not going to make it to the starting line.” Casey loves the combination of needing to be physically strong AND tactically smart. “The 49er has both.”
Describe your overall campaign plan and goal: “In the beginning it was very challenging. Instead of a super specific goal we just wanted to learn how to sail the boat. It is challenging and fun. Can I tame this boat? After that we broadened our vision. We figured out that this was something we could do full time. Then we began learning how much we didn’t know: how to set up a campaign, how to become fit. As we got closer to the trial set we realized we could do it. In the summer of 2022 we learned about the domestic trials and that became our goal.”
How does it feel to race in this elite level? “We realized quickly that it would be a long journey to be at the elite level. My goal was to prove a point to myself, US Sailing and everyone that this is something we can do. We succeeded in that. I tackled the challenges I set for myself. It was funny how much we didn’t know about being professional sailors. It is satisfying that we progressed.”
What countries did you visit? “We started in the US (Rhode Island then Florida) then Aarhus, Denmark for the 2022 Europeans which was our first international event. We went to the 2022 Worlds in Halifax, Canada, then back to Miami in 2023 then to Palma, Spain for a month of training. We did a training camp in Mexico. We went to the World Cup in the Netherlands. And, we did the Kieler Woche in Kiel Germany. It is one of the largest regattas in the world.”
What were your biggest challenges? “The Worlds in Halifax and the Palma Regatta were the toughest. The first two years in general were a challenge. It’s hard to feel satisfied with progress when you realize you have a long way to go. All our energy was spent and we couldn’t perform. We just didn’t have the skill set to come out of tricky situations on the race course. We hadn’t had the top notch competition before.”
In what ways was the AYC Foundation helpful to you? “Two things…it was really cool to have the support of the organization and the recognition for the effort I was putting in. It was helpful both financially and on social media. It was cool to be on a panel at the Night of Olympians Fundraiser and it helped me establish myself in the sailing world. Secondly…we wouldn’t have been able to travel without the Foundation. It was fun to represent the Annapolis area.”
What would you do differently in a future campaign? “A lot…the way you spend money and the way you spend time is huge. Prioritize athletic ability. I would prioritize working with a great coach rather than traveling so much. Guidance on the water and off the water helps you be more mentally prepared. It’s so easy to waste time and money. Ideally I would work with a coach alone or with other 49ers. Even one other boat at similar level or higher and a great coach is going to teach you a ton. In that situation you can make huge strides.”
What is your biggest takeaway? “You have to put yourself in environments where you feel fear. Sailing against the best sailors, conditions and places you are afraid of…conquer that feeling. Come to terms that it’s OK to feel anxious…it’s hard…keep going and you will get better. It’s easy to fear being outclassed, fear of capsizing, hurting ourselves or our boat, losing to people I shouldn’t. If you can cope with that anxiety and use it to get better it is huge.”
Is there anything else you want to share about your Olympic campaign? “It’s a privilege to be able to compete with the best sailors in the world. Annapolis has a tradition of sailing that can put you on the world stage. It is a treat. It is available. I’m proud to be from Annapolis because it gives you the tools you need to reach that level.”
What’s next for you? “I don’t want to take my foot off the gas. I want to keep the door open for more sailing if it is available. We’ve created a reputation and there are people who want to support us. Maybe we’ll do it again. Or, come back to a corporate career and make a living!”
The Annapolis Yacht Club Foundation couldn’t be prouder of Casey following through on his plan and achieving his goal of competing in the US Sailing Olympic Trials. At a fundraiser last spring Annapolis area Olympian Nancy Haberland gave advice to our three Olympic aspirants: Casey Cabot, Leo Boucher and James Golden. “Doing an Olympic campaign, there is only one US representative for each class. However, it takes many people to create a competition. In participating in the competition, you push the winners, should it not be you, to be their best. The first time I did an Olympic campaign, I finished third in the US Olympic trials in the women’s single handed class. However, I felt like part of the Bronze medal, won by the US rep, was also mine. Because of my training with her and against her, she became a faster and better sailor than without me there.”
Congratulations to Casey and Reed. They finished sixth in the trials and by the end they were rounding the first mark within striking distance of the winners. Two more Olympic aspirants from the AYC Foundation, James Golden and Leo Boucher will compete in the US Sailing Olympic Trials in the ILCA7 class February 17-24 in Miami.