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Paralympian sailing for gold

April 11, 2011
Amy Dove
Tags: newsalumni

With a chorus of 80,000 fans behind him during the opening ceremonies, Paul Tingley was hooked in a moment. It's been 11 years since he first went to the Summer Paralympics but the thrill hasn't worn off for the Royal Roads University alumnus, especially now as he prepares for his fourth race to the podium.

Tingley's Paralympics career started by chance. He travelled to Sydney, Australia in 2000 as an alternate for the Canadian Paralympics sailing team. He ended up competing and helped bring the three-man team to a bronze finish, but not before he took in as many of the sights and sounds of the Olympics as he could. There was a great energy about that Games and "I was just going to everything. I don't think I slept," he adds with a laugh.

Four years later, the team competed in Athens, Greece. Post 9-11, the Games were more somber, the security presence stronger, he says. "We thought we were going to be really good but we ended up not doing well," he says of their seventh place finish. "Let's just say we learned a lot about how to train."

The team split ways after the 2004 games and Tingley went solo to the Beijing, China Games in 2008. He was determined to bring back the energy of Australia and approached the Games with that mindset. "We were going to have fun, keep it lose and prepare hard," he says, noting in that way competing is similar to school. You prepare hard for your exams and then just let go and let your mind do what it's been trained to do, says the 2002 grad of Royal Roads Network Security Analyst program.

"There is a balance between enjoying the ceremonies and the travel, but also you have a job to do and you have to take that seriously," he says. "You have to walk this line and it's hard to know where it is but at the end of the day your gut will tell you."

Tingley won gold that year. In 2009 he took third place in the Open World Championships and in 2010 he won the 2.4 mR Open World Championships against sailors of all abilities. Paralympics sailing is open to people of all abilities, with any number of boat adaptations. For Tingley, who is a paraplegic, he uses a joystick to navigate the waters rather than traditional rudder foot pedals.

"There is something about being in the one-person boat," he says. "You are the crew, you are the skipper. You get all the glory and you get all the blame."

A self-described gambler on the course, Tingley notes racing solo removes potential conflict over strategy and communication. He has yet to decide whether he will race solo or on a three-man team for the 2012 Games in London, England, noting the energy in a team boat is compelling.

"When you have good chemistry and everything is working and balanced it's like an orchestra," he said. "There is more energy."

Now two years out from the next Games, Tingley notes the cyclical nature of his life, now divided into four-year rotations timed solely around the Games. Year 1 following competition is about resting. It's about reconnecting with friends and family, Tingley says, because throughout training there are a lot of personal sacrifices and you don't always have the opportunity for quality time with people.

His passion comes with a lot of traveling, leaving him somewhat of a nomad. "I don't know why I have plants at home, there is no chance of getting anything to live," jokes the Halifax resident.

Year 2 you start working on speed, competing as much as possible before you launch into full-time training in Year 3. That's when the floor drops out from under you and all your money falls through it, he says with a laugh. Tingley is in full training mode now, having just returned from a winter living and racing in Maimi, Florida. He is headed to France in April to race in a world cup event before he tackles the Canadian trials in England in June.

For London, Tingley has no expectations, aside from enjoying it as much as possible. Expectations bring stress, says the seasoned sailor, and that can throw off a race completely.

"If it doesn't happen I think my mom is still going to love me at the end of the day and I am not going to worry about it," he says. "I tell myself, the best thing would be to go blank, just let your body do what it's been trained to do."

The 2012 Paralympics Games are Aug. 29 to Sept. 9, in London, England. Athletes competing in sailing will take to the water Sept. 1 to 6.