“We’re all competitive people, but on the boat, it would be very easy to criticize, but we have an agreement that we’re not criticizing, we’re just trying to get the best out of each other.”
Great Britain’s Sonar Sailing team are social animals.
Not only do they enjoy their curry evenings, going to the cinema and cycling down country lanes, but they are also incredibly good at interacting with their fans.
Even their dog, Bertie, has a Twitter account.
The men on the team, Stephen Thomas and John Robertson, admit that this is mainly due to Hannah Stodel, who was born without her right forearm and is the organized, chatty, bubbly one.
She is the main tweeter on @BritishSonar, updates their Facebook page and website, referring to their hope of medalling for the first time at their third Paralympics, having come sixth at the last two Games.
Stodel’s Twitter addiction is not merely a frivolity. It has perhaps been one factor in helping to raise the team’s profile and secure important sponsors.
Their social personalities also go some way to explain how they have managed to stay together as a team for over 10 years.
“We’ve been together so long now, we’re like a married threesome,” Stodel joked.
That is not to say it is always married bliss. It can be chaotic at times, she admitted.
“We’re all competitive people, but on the boat, it would be very easy to criticize, but we have an agreement that we’re not criticizing, we’re just trying to get the best out of each other.
“It’s just a question of being open and honest with each other.”
Mix of personalities
As with all the best teams, each member brings different qualities, and they have been together long enough to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“We’re very different personalities on the boat and are able to complement each other,” said Thomas, who does a lot of the more physical work and is very determined, sometimes not knowing when to stop according to his teammates.
“The team’s strengths are consistency and being able to bounce back,” he said, full of purpose.
Robertson, the skipper, is the cheeky, cheerful northern one with a lot of experience and a great feel for the boat.
“As long as we get the job done, we can always have a laugh, you know,” Robertson explained.
Stodel is the analytical tactician, who is very good at thinking things through.
“I’m a bit OCD,” she quipped.
Learning from the past
The team all feel that they are in a good place for London, and that they are stronger than ever mentally.
Whereas in the past when they were not totally prepared or when they would have let set-backs get to them, this time feels different.
“I think we’re just a bit more experienced, really,” Robertson said. “The whole approach and how to view the event in general is just a different mindset.
“We’re just trying not to get too emotional when you don’t need to. We’re trying to keep everything on a level playing field if you like.
The coming weeks are all about tinkering with the last bits of equipment to optimize their boat speed.
“We’re just trying to fine-tune everything and work on a couple of things that we identified in the Sail for Gold Regatta,” said Thomas.
The team are spending a few more days training in Weymouth before heading to Falmouth (250km west along the coast) until the Games start. They will be joined by the SKUD 18 team (Niki Birrell and Alexandra Rickham) and 2.4mR sailor Helena Lucas, all of whom are strong medal contenders.
If any of these sailors reach the podium, it would be Great Britain’s first-ever Sailing medal at the Paralympic Games.