Digesting the Experience

6.18.12 – Now that Sailing Arabia  The Tour is over, I’ve returned to my life in California where I’ve finally had a few moments to reflect on the experience that I shared with crew of Al Thurya Bank Muscat during the time I spent in Oman and the Middle East.

During the months of training leading up to the competition, the Omani women were exposed to an environment, which tested their stamina and their ability to cope with rough and changeable seas.  In addition, these women faced the challenge of training against two teams of Omani men in Mussanah.  I still remember a somewhat distinct and feeling of separateness as the training races got underway.  There were many who doubted the strength and endurance of the Omani women.  But as time went on, and the women proved that they could handle the rigor, this feeling dissipated.  Eventually, I saw the Omani men and Omani women together on the dock discussing boats and sailing tactics using classic “hand karate”  (where the story is retold using your hands as boats), and it was a beautiful moment.  From a sailor’s perspective, it looked like friendly competitors, bonded by a shared experience on the water, simply telling sea stories.


This is a story, however, that goes beyond these individual sailors, as it touched all the families who came to see them on the docks, the students and adults who followed their progress, and the media who delighted in reporting on the adventure. I think the Omani children who saw big, strong women carrying sails, pulling ropes, and working out in the gym alongside the men will forever have a bigger vision of what can be.

Sailing Arabia – The Tour will be back in February 2013, with stops in the same locales. It will be another great event, and hopefully there will be another women’s team competing.  I do not know at this juncture if Oman Sail will field another female team, but my understanding is that they are interested in doing so. If not, perhaps I will try to put together that opportunity on my own.

I have continued to keep tabs on my Omani friends through social media and email. Raya was recently featured in an inspirational article in Women’s Health & Fitness titled “My Secret Life.”  In a question and answer format, she talked about how the sailing experience had changed her.  Raya’s new philosophy  is “to try everything and never lose an opportunity.”  After the tour, she shares that her goals include being the first Arab woman to sail on the Volvo Round the World Race and that her diet will never be the same now that she’s stopped eating junk food in order to become fit and healthy for sailing.

And Intisar’s goals have changed as well.  At one point, she was quoted as saying she would beproud to be standing by women competing in sailing in the Olympics, but given the time to reflect, Intisar is now asking, “Why can’t I go to the Olympics?”  My response: “Exactly!  Why not YOU?”  Reading this, I realized that this question of “Why not me?” is what fuels my drive to compete in the male-dominated sport of big boat sailing and also to surf the big waves in the southern ocean.  Seeing these spirited Omani women questioning the same, while they are pushing boundaries and wanting to do more in sailing is fantastic.

This is such an important story right now. Earlier this month, Raiya, Intisar, and Tahira competed in their first international yacht race in the Posidonia Cup in the Greek city of Piraeus.  These women are continuing to pursue their dreams, and these are dreams that our world needs to hear more about to inspire girls and women everywhere  to strive for happiness, health, and opportunity.  It is my intention to continue working through sport to create opportunities for women to develop into their full potential.  We know that when women are elevated, we all win.

This challenge is what makes my heart sing and hopefully yours too.