Saturday, April 20, 2019

Cory Sertl- J/22 and J/24 Women’s World Champion- US Sailing President

Cory Sertl from Jamestown, RI Gary Jobson recently provided a profile on Sailing regarding the recent election of Newport/ Jamestown native and top woman sailor- Cory Sertl. Here is Gary’s report on a woman sailor he has also known for nearly two-plus decades as a friend, competitor, and fellow US Sailing volunteer.

“The new leader of American sailing is a champion and a proven leader, but the sport is changing faster than any organization could possibly keep apace.

From Cory Sertl’s ­perspective at the President’s helm of US Sailing, and as a member of the World Sailing Council, she sees similar challenges across the American sailing landscape as she does elsewhere in the world: participation is stagnant in many regions. At home, the United States won only one medal in the past two summer Olympic Games, and there’s considerable confusion on what is the best handicap-rating rule. Sertl has the high-level racing experience and longtime board service to draw upon as she takes on these and other challenges, but she faces stiff headwinds on her first beat.

Sertl, 59, has transitioned over the years from an Olympian and champion sailor to a leader at the highest levels of the sport. She was selected Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year twice (1995 and 2001), is a winning skipper and crew, and regularly races with her family. But, today, she’s committed full time to advancing the sport that has defined her life. She recently reminded me of a story when, in 1990, immediately after she and Jody Swanson won a gold medal in the International 470 class at the Goodwill Games in Seattle, I took them aside and said, “OK, you have just won a gold medal, so now you have to give back to the sport. You really have to be role models here.”

Sertl took my advice to heart and has since become connected to the sport, from the bottom up. Leading US Sailing while simultaneously serving on the World Sailing’s Board today gives her a unique vantage point to the inner workings of our sport.

“It’s been fun to continue at a high level in sailing, not just competing, but also making decisions about what’s good for the sport,” she says. “Sixty years ago, we didn’t have many women sailing at as high a level as men. There has been a women’s class in the Olympics since 1988 and now we have more opportunities. I’m glad to see World Sailing working to achieve gender equity by the number of competitors and medals starting in 2024. It’s really exciting.”

US Sailing’s Presidential term limit, however, is only three years, which is a short amount of time to implement initiatives, but her priorities include improving the U.S. Olympic sailing program, building a better education system and getting more new people to the water. The organization recently published its strategic plan for 2018 to 2020 and one of its goals is to encourage more people to get out on the water throughout their lifetime. The plan is to offer a variety of sailing activities.

To understand sailors’ needs, US Sailing will use technology and data analysis, focused communication and customer service. Each department will address specific ways to achieve these goals.

“We put all new projects and ideas through this filter to understand what will work,” Sertl says. “For example, if someone leaves the sport for several years, we must help them re-engage with sailing. We can do this with colleges, community sailing, yacht clubs and other sailing organizations. It could be something simple like getting five friends together to go sailing on a J/24. An important part of the plan is to measure progress by observing participation trends at events or training programs, US Sailing membership and results at regattas. These activities will include casual recreational sailing to high-­performance competition.

“At the World Sailing Annual Conference in Singapore last year we talked about how to keep kids in the sport,” she adds. “Sometimes young girls don’t like sailing by themselves in the Optimists. We want to keep them excited and we worked on ways to accomplish that task.”

US Sailing’s Board has its own set of priorities. But, at the international level, the process of governing a rich and increasingly diverse sport is considerably more complicated today. Sertl says she’s learned to listen and understand different people’s points of view and has become more effective as a result.

“It takes a while to gain respect and trust, so, when we speak, people listened,” she says. “Common sense is important when finding solutions.”

Sertl started down the sailing path in Jamestown, Rhode Island.  Her family had a summerhouse on the small island west of Newport when her father served in the Navy.  “We learned to sail right in front of the house,” she recalls with fond memories.

US Sailing’s presidential term limit, however, is only three years, which is a short amount of time to implement initiatives, but her priorities include improving the U.S. Olympic sailing program, building a better education system and getting more new people to the water.

She attended the University of Pennsylvania and raced on the sailing team for four years. Upon graduation, she campaigned an International 470, crewing for Susan Dierdorff Taylor. They won the World Championship in Brazil in 1988, and with her commanding height, she says, she was best-suited for the crew position.

The pair later lost Olympic selection to Alison Jolly and Lynn Jewell by a narrow margin. Sertl, however, was named to the Olympic Team in Pusan, South Korea, as an alternate. Jolly and Jewell went on to win a gold medal that year, the first female sailors to achieve such an honor.

“Crewing in a 470 is awesome, because when you’re on the trapeze you get to see a lot,” Sertl says. “You really get to control the tactics. I enjoyed getting into that role because I had done so much skippering. I felt like a true 50/50 partner. We helped push Alison and Lynn toward winning the gold medal. It’s fun to be part of the whole team, and experience the Olympic movement.”

In 1995, panelists selected Sertl as Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, citing her versatility in both fleet and match racing that year as both a skipper and a crew. Sertl and her teammates, Dina Kowalyshyn, Susan Taylor and Pease Glaser won the Rolex International Women’s Keelboat Championship sailed in a matched fleet of J/24s, the pinnacle of women’s fleet racing at the time. The team won four of 10 races against 60 teams. The winning skipper of the championship was awarded a Rolex watch, and because Sertl, Glaser and Taylor had already had won Rolex watches in the past, Sertl made a grand gesture by giving hers to Kowalyshyn.

In 2011, Sertl was back into the action at the Rolex International Keelboat Championship with a new team sailing on J/22s, all from her home club. The regatta was held at Rochester YC, so she was right at home.

There were 36 teams from 16 countries racing, and entering the final day of racing, she trailed 2008 Olympic gold medalist, Anna Tunnicliffe and Olympian Sally Barkow. Three races were sailed in thunderstorms and unsettled conditions and Sertl won the regatta, beating Tunnicliffe by 5 points.

Sertl, her husband, Mark and their two grown children, Katja and Nick, continue to race Lightnings, but they usually race on separate boats because the Lightning requires three crew. Plus, they are often seen sailing their J/22 in the Conanicut YC’s famous Tuesday Night Series in the summertime.

The Sertl family spends winter months in Rochester, New York, where they own a real-estate development and management company, and try to spend a good part of the summer in Rhode Island. Sertl recently teamed up with Hannah Swett, Melissa Purdy Feagin, Joan Porter and Jody Stark to compete in the 2018 J/70 World Championship. In the next few years, she plans to race in the New York YC’s IC37 fleet, to continue to racing in the Lightning class, and to race a J/22 in the local circuit.

One of her roles at World Sailing is serving as chair of the Youth World Championship committee. Teaching young sailors to make sailing a lifelong sport is an essential part of Sertl’s work both in the United States and around the world.

“We try to provide great resources for youth sailing and make it more understandable and easier to get into the sport, and easier to stay in it,” she says. “We want to promote all kinds of different sailing, not just at the top level.”

Sertl is a certified sailing instructor and travels often to work directly with ­community sailing programs.

“I am passionate about getting young people involved in the sport at all levels,” she says. “At US Sailing we have the opportunity to strengthen support for the sport at all levels, continuing to strive for excellence and creating quality programs. Partnering with the many organizations that support development is key to sustaining a solid base and inspiring ­lifelong sailors.”

Young people who get involved in sailing are busy learning life skills and contributing in positive ways to their communities, she adds, noting that lasting friendships develop through the sport whether it is racing and learning the elements of sportsmanship or becoming a sailing instructor and having a summer job teaching sailing. Add to Flipboard Magazine.