When it comes to sailing, Dwight sophomore Natalie Fear is all in – and she has been since she was six months old!
That’s when her father, a competitive sailboat racer, first brought her aboard. While he didn’t make it to the Summer Olympics as he had hoped, Natalie ultimately may. She helms a one-person boat called a Laser Radial, which is just shy of 14 feet long, and has recently begun to make impressive inroads on the junior racing circuit. In fact, Natalie is ranked among the top 17 junior women in North America and the top 200 in the world! This is no small feat, as sailboat racing is an incredibly
fast and challenging sport.
What began as a hobby is now a prime focus for Natalie. She started racing on her own at the age of seven on a single-person, ten-foot dinghy called an Opti, designed for children and young teens. “I spent my summers at a yacht club in Rye, NY, racing this boat, but I was not good and didn’t like it,” Natalie shares. “It was hard to be so young with such a big responsibility – and not being good was hard, too. But I stuck with it. Grit has always been something in me and important, driving me to do something that is difficult, and driving me to succeed at it.”
When Natalie switched to racing with a partner on a two-person boat, she started to enjoy it. By age 12, her grit and determination were beginning to pay off and Natalie started taking racing to heart. “I saw how important it was becoming in my life and I wanted to get better and better at it. It’s part of who I am,” she says.
More recently, she returned to racing solo and moved onto Lasers, competing in frost-biting races in New York during the winter against older competitors – mostly men, including her father. Natalie also began spending long weekends racing in Key Biscayne and Miami – and winning. She has since begun to travel throughout Florida participating in larger regattas and on circuits against top junior sailors in the country; among them, hopeful Olympians.
Fostering Her Spark of Genius
During her Dwight interview, Natalie met with Chancellor Stephen Spahn. “When he learned about my passion for sailing, the Chancellor shared how Dwight is dedicated to igniting and nurturing students’ sparks of genius. He was so passionate about this, I knew that I wanted to attend – and when I arrived as a freshman, I loved it right away!”
Natalie’s teachers, together with Athletics Director Michael Horvath, have been supportive of her need to dedicate time to practice and competitions, which can total five-eight hours a day when she’s in Florida. “While we don’t have an official sailing team, Mr. Horvath has encouraged me to wear a Dwight pennie when I compete, which my mom made!”
Sailboat racing is a highly competitive mental and physical sport. It requires a great deal of strategy and skill, not to mention confidence, as well as the ability to pivot on a dime when wind conditions change, as well as when other sailors tack to capture more wind or gain an advantage. The water is its own singular playing field and those who conquer it do so with speed and smarts. A full day on the race course can be as long as an exhausting eight hours non-stop.
Natalie reports that racing shapes everything she does and her way of thinking: “It has taught me so much about myself. You have to be okay with losing, which only fuels me more. There can only be one person who crosses the finish line first among dozens and dozens of competitors. But I learn from losing.” This translates into the classroom and correlates to the IB, says Natalie, as both require a lot of risk-taking. Interested in how things move and physics, she reports using some of what she’s learned at Dwight in racing. Yet English rates highest as her favorite class because she especially enjoys writing and poetry.
Even with her challenging schoolwork, frequent gym workouts, and busy racing schedule, Natalie has found time to be on Dwight’s Swim team and helped the girls to win second place overall in the ISAL championships this year. Natalie swam in five events: two team relays and the individual 100 freestyle, breaststroke, and butterfly, all of which she won, bringing home four medals! Additionally, she is a member of the Dwight Feminist Club and the Mock Trial team, serving as an attorney for the prosecution this year.
A Steady Course with the Wind at Her Back
As Natalie continues to excel on the race course, she is looking forward to a lifetime in the sport she loves. She wants to sail bigger boats and in different classes, letting it take her wherever it will – much like the wind. That will soon be at the starting line of the International Laser Class Association’s 2022 Radial Youth World Championships in Texas this summer!
“I never wanted to go to the Olympics, but I may be on that path with my coaches, so it has entered the back of my mind,” Natalie says. “But I am so excited to be going to Worlds and want to be a world champion!” She also wants to inspire younger girls to follow in her wake. Being a competitive female racer is very difficult and so rewarding. “There are so few of us in racing and I’d like to continue on this course for many years to come.”
We know Natalie will certainly do so – and we look forward to cheering her on from the shore!
- Student Spark