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Countdown to Beijing – Raul Aguayo

Raul Aguayo’s goal is simple:  to be the first Dominican sailor to qualify for the Olympic Games in sailing. With the talent he’s shown thus far on the local, regional, and international sailing scene, and the time on the water he’s devoting to his goal, his quest may not turn out to be so tough after all.

Born and raised in the Dominican Republic’s capital, Santo Domingo, Aguayo says, “My family has owned a beach house since I was a year old and that’s where my father kept his Sunfish. Occasionally, he would take it out and let me ride with him.”

When Aguayo was 13, his sister started seeing the man who would become her future husband and president of the Dominican Sailing Federation. “Jesus Feris took me sailing at Club Nautico de Santo Domingo, where most of the sailors on the island go. I got my first contact with the competitive side of the sport. Ever since, I was hooked and started going to the Club on weekends to learn and practice. Then, I started going in the afternoons after school and now, that’s all I do—sail, five to six days a week.” Today, Aguayo continues to sail out of the Club and out of the Laser Training Center in the north coast town of Cabarete.

“Unfortunately sailing had never been very big here in the Dominican Republic,” Aguayo says. The Optimist fleet started around 2002 and there were no coaches, so I learned mainly practicing with other sailors like Gabriel Alonso and Jorge Abreu. Both of these guys would teach me different tactics on the water. But, I was never really coached until 2003 when we had the Pan American Games here in Santo Domingo.”

Over the past decade, he’s sailed Sunfish (from 1995 to 2004), J/24s, Melges 24s and now the Laser. After years of practicing virtually solo with no coaching, with few local regattas to measure and test his skills, while taking time to complete an electrical engineering degree, Aguayo’s sailing skills and experience took off when he began to travel.

“I’ve been to quite a few places to sail regattas,” Aguayo says. These include Canada, the United States, Mexico, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, St. Martin, Antigua, Martinique, Guatemala, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Holland, Austria, Turkey and Korea, basically following the international Sunfish and Laser circuits.

“My best international results have been 3rd at the 2003 Pan-American Games in Sunfish and 2nd in the Central American and Caribbean Games in 2006 in Laser, and 6th in the Laser North American Championships in 2007,” he says.

Of sailing Aguayo says, “I have learned that this can be a very interesting and beautiful sport. But, it can also be very tough and frustrating. That’s because everywhere you go, you have different conditions. You get used to sailing in one kind of condition. Then, when you expect a certain type of condition, you sometimes find you get something completely different for an event.

“I have also learned that sailing in the Caribbean is great. We have the best conditions for sailing in the world – good wind and waves and most importantly nice warm water all year around. There is no other place where I would rather sail than here at home in Cabarete or Boca Chica, as well as in the other Caribbean islands I’ve visited.”

In preparation for the Olympics, Aguayo will fly to Australia for a month to train and then race in the Sydney International Regatta in December. “Then, I’ll come back to sail in the Caribbean Laser Midwinters in Cabarete and then back over to Australia for the Laser Worlds in February. This is where I will hopefully earn a spot for the Olympics. When I get this, I can hopefully raise more funds to travel and train more in Europe and other places in preparation for the Olympics.”

Preparing for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, says Aguayo, “is the biggest challenge I have faced so far in my life. I have worked so hard the last couple of years and still I don’t have a guaranteed spot, so it is really tough. But, just the hope of being the first Dominican to qualify for the Games and making this sport known to more people in my country makes it worth it. So, I’m really exited and looking forward to the Worlds in February.”

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, USVI-based marine writer and registered dietician. 

THE LASER

The Laser Standard, also called the International Laser Class sailboat, is a one-design boat chosen as a Men’s Olympic Class boat since 1996. This one-person boat measures 13-feet 10-inches long, with a 4-foot 7-inch beam, 2 foot 7 inch draft and 7.06-square meter sail area. The design was built by Bruce Kirby for the ‘America’s Teacup’ competition in 1970 for boats under $1000. Kirby’s prototype, which he named the ‘Weekender’ and inscribed ‘TGIF’ in the sail, won its class and went on display at the New York Boat Show in 1971 where its name was changed to Laser. The greatest champion of Laser Class so far is Brazilian, Robert Scheidt who won the world championship eight times and prevailed in earning two gold and one silver Olympic medals.

HELPING PROSPECTIVE CARIBBEAN OLYMPIANS

Caribbean athletes often need financial support to make it to the Olympics.  To support Aguayo’s Olympic campaign, contact him via Email, twiter45@yahoo.com or twiter45@hotmail.com, or through the Dominican Sailing Federation.

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