An Optimist

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

My vessel was a single-sail dinghy called an Optimist, designed for young sailors like me. At age 13, I was in my very first solo race, propelled through the brackish water of the Caloosahatchee River by what felt like a gale but which in actuality was a wind no more than fifteen knots. Salt spray stung my face, and every whitecap I split sent my heart into my throat. Our coach circled the course in her Boston Whaler, but every gust still set my heart pounding. I barely noticed that with every tack upwind, I was gaining on the boats ahead of me.

When I did notice, I exulted and tacked hard to starboard, then….


The swinging boom, propelled by physics, smacked the back of my head, but all that was hurt was my dignity. I refocused on my competitors, the wind, the chop, and the finish line a half mile distant. I was so zoned in that I never saw the high-powered speedboat cut recklessly across the race course. Too late, I tried to rudder my bow into the onrushing wake. Twenty seconds later, I floated in the chilly water, holding onto my capsized vessel for dear life..To her credit, my coach merely watched from the Whaler, making sure I was safe, but letting me right the vessel myself.

It was a sober, slow-speed sail back to...

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