Amanda Clark could have easily given up on her childhood dream of winning an Olympic gold medal in sailing when she didn’t pass the trials in 2004. She could have simply docked her boat permanently after coming in 12th in the 2008 Beijing games. Or when her sailing partner walked away from the sport last year—just months before the trials began for this year’s games, which kick off July 27 in London.
Instead, the 30-year-old from Shelter Island found a new partner, qualified for the 2012 Olympics in a tie-breaker over a favored U.S. team and is reaching for the stars a second time on the world stage. Clark’s competitive spirit comes as natural as her childhood roots braving the seas off Long Island—at 15 she was the youngest female to make the U.S. sailing team.
“I love sailing and I know I am going to do it for the rest of my life,” she tells the Press.
With a miniature American flag tucked into her blonde hair, Clark practically bounces as she speaks at a recent send-off party of nearly 1,000 friends, family members and well-wishers of the 16-person U.S. sailing team at the Larchmont Yacht Club in Westchester County.
“It’s worth it because every day I push myself to find something a little bit new and learn something about myself or work with others and be a great team player,” she says.
Clark’s sentiments are shared among the six Long Islanders—half of whom are sailors—representing America across the pond for the next two weeks. Despite the elation, the road to London has also been paved with sacrifices.
Each Olympian has a tale to tell. Boxer Jamel Herring of Coram is fueled by his late daughter’s memory. Maria Michta, a race walker from Nesconset, has overcome injuries. Clark and teammate Deb Capozzi, of Bayport, have left the games empty-handed before. Huntington’s Erik Storck will be sailing in the Olympics for the first time—same as Michta and Herring. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Sue Bird, from Syosset, is hoping for number three.
LI’s 2012 Olympians are representative of a landmark feat nationally and for the London games. This is the first time Team USA has sent more women than men—269 vs. 261—and the first Olympics in which women can compete in every event. It’s also the first time every competing nation has sent at least one woman, including Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia.
Bird notes that the accomplishment comes amid the 50th anniversary this summer of Title IX, the education law that created a level playing field for women and girls in high school and college sports.
“The earlier they start, the better they’re going to be,” Bird says.
Of course, none of these half-dozen Islanders, among 38 New Yorkers competing against 10,000 athletes, would have made it without extraordinary dedication, intense hard work and an un-daunting spirit to excel.
Twenty seven-year-old sailor Storck is realizing a goal he’s had since his elementary school days.
“It’s unreal,” he tells the Press. “I get goose bumps every time that I think about it.”