“I went into the event just saying, ‘Let’s see what happens.’ But after a few days, I found myself in the lead, and then thought, ‘Hey, maybe I can win this thing.’ And then I won and became world champion. It’s really crazy how well the event went. I still cannot even put it into words to this day.”
Guus Bijlard’s parents did not attend August’s IFDS Sailing World Championships in Kinsale, Ireland, because their son had just taken up the one-person keelboat six months prior and thought it would be extreme to think he had any chance of medalling.
“Oh, Guus, you’re never going to win,” they told him before he left the Netherlands.
But at his first World Championships, Bijlard shocked even himself, sailing to gold in the 2.4mR one-person keelboat event, finishing ahead of Germany’s Heiko Kroger and France’s Damien Seguin.
The world title came down to the final race, as all three sailors were neck and neck, chasing each other ferociously around the course. Ultimately, it was Bijlard who just beat Kroger to the line and finished first in the 45-boat fleet.
He successfully defeated all three medallists from the London 2012 Paralympic Games – Kroger, Seguin and Paralympic champion Helena Lucas of Great Britain, who finished ninth – en route to the title.
“I went into the event just saying, ‘Let’s see what happens,’” Bijlard said. “But after a few days, I found myself in the lead, and then thought, ‘Hey, maybe I can win this thing.’ And then I won and became world champion. It’s really crazy how well the event went. I still cannot even put it into words to this day.”
And to think he just stepped into the one-person keelboat six months before, well, that’s just incredible.
Bijlard used to be an able-bodied sailor and field hockey player, but a year and a half ago suffered a spinal-cord injured from a skiing accident.
He was in a wheelchair for eight months during rehabilitation, and during his recovery, he was approached by sailing coaches to take up the sport on a more serious level.
The most challenging part of Bijlard has been to learn to relax as the only person in the boat, as when he sailed as an able-bodied athlete, he was not alone.
“I want to use all my strength and power if I don’t think I’m going fast enough,” Bijlard said. “But in this boat, I just need to relax more. I need to learn to chill.”
Winning a world title has already opened so many doors for Bijlard, who is currently training in Valencia, Spain, and now the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games have jumped right onto his calendar.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but if I’m still the best in another few years, yes, I’d love to go to Rio and try to win,” Bijlard said.