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Spotlight: Jen French and JP Creignou

French and Creignou on the Paralympic podiumIn September, Jen French and JP Creignou won a silver medal at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. We caught up with the duo to talk about life after the Games.
 
Less than two months ago, you were standing on the Paralympic Games podium receiving a silver medal for your outstanding SKUD-18 sailing. What have you been doing since you returned home?
JP: I am catching up with all duties that had to be put on the back burner and having a good time with friends and family. I’ve also become re-acquainted with the kitchen and house chores, to my wife’s delight!

Jen: I’m trying to get back into work mode. The people I work with have been very accommodating of me taking off four months. I’m also getting out the word about my new book called On My Feet Again: My Journey Out of the Wheelchair Using Neurotechnology.

What is your workout routine after the Games? One would guess that since you’re not trying to peak for a regatta it’s different, but how do you adjust?
Jen: It’s interesting, we worked with a personal trainer to prepare and what he taught us how to get our bodies ready for the Games. Now I’m trying to keep it going because it gave me so much more function, being as fit as I was. It was a big lesson learned from our preparation bleeding over into my life.

Describe your homecoming and how you celebrated.
JP: We had a big surprise when we arrived home late at night and found our house decorated with garlands and signs of congratulations, along with an oversized card signed by all. It felt really good after a long journey to know that friends and neighbors were cheering all along.

The St. Petersburg Yacht Club very generously hosted a celebration party where Jen and I shared some of our experience with club members and supporters.

Jen: My mom and sister had a party for us last weekend in my hometown of Cleveland, so I got to see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time, friends from high school and that sort of thing.

We also went to the White House (for a reception for Team USA hosted by the President and First Lady). It was amazing. You always hear that the USA had one of the bigger teams, but that put it into perspective. We really are a big team, but a small group when you put it into terms of the millions of people in our country and how selective it is. It really is an honor.

The President and First Lady vowed to stay afterward and shake every athlete’s hand. That was not planned. We were among the first to meet them, but after we went through the White House tour they were still shaking hands.
Winning a Paralympic medal is a unique accomplishment.

Now that you’ve had some time to reflect, can you put it into perspective? 
JP: The medal is a sweet reward at the end of a great journey. It represents the commitment made toward this goal and the countless supporters, advisors, coaches, helpers and our spouses who all participated in this accomplishment. Many new friends, stories and memories made along the way.
 
Have you done any sailing since you’ve been home?
Jen: We’re still winding down the campaign. I’m going to sail in the U.S. Disabled Championships at the end of October with my good friends Sarah Everhart-Skeels and Brenda Hopkins. Before the Games there is so much focus on improving strengths and working on weaknesses. A little bit of club sailing and focusing on fun is the best thing right now.

JP: I went club racing with my wife on Ideal 18 and a casual moonlight cruising on J/24.

Jen: I hear a lot of people get burned out, but I think it’s important to go back to basics and why you fell in love with the sport.

Not many people get to see a Paralympic medal up close. What does your medal say on it? 
JP: The medal has “London 2012 Paralympic Games” engraved in English and in Braille on the circumference. It is a beautiful design representing a section of Nike’s stretched out wing on the front. It is 92.5% silver and very heavy at almost one pound.

Jen: On the edge it says sailing. I just found that the other day! It’s so neat they put that there. The medals for each sport are different. I think it’s the first time they’ve created a unique medal.
Where do you keep your medal?
 
JP:  My medal stays close to me in a jewelry pouch, ready to bring out and display or hand to anybody who asks to see it or asks about my experience at the Games.
 
When you look at the medal, what thoughts come into your head?
JP: First is a feeling of pride and satisfaction with flashes of memories standing on the podium and watching the American flag raised, or the crowd cheering and flag waiving. I am also reminded of the great honor and privilege of representing Team USA and the country, as the medal is a symbol of the efforts of all the people who made this possible.

Jen: Here’s an example that puts it into perspective. I was at my nephew’s school with 5th and 6th graders. We talked a little bit about the injury and how you overcome obstacles. No matter what you’re faced with, you enjoy what you enjoy. We talked about the fun of competition. Even though we were in high competition mode, at the end of the day when you’re off the water you are still friends with your competitors and you’re having fun. If you don’t keep that perspective you’ll never have fun when you’re competing.

When you talk to kids that know very little about sailing, it helps you realize how big the accomplishment is. They get so excited to wear the medal and see it. While I’m at a time to teach people the lessons that go along with it, I’ll keep it up.

What is your plan going forward? Have you even thought about another Paralympic campaign?
 Jen: Our SKUD and #04, which is our training boat that Team Paradise loaned us, are going back there (to Miami). It’s time to take a break from the SKUD and get back to the reason we love the sport: sailing with other people and other boats. We spent a lot of time in that (SKUD) seat and there are plenty of other seats.

JP: I am making no plans for a campaign or competition at this time; just want to enjoy the end of this journey without being encumbered by the prospect of more competition. This was my third campaign and second participation at the Games so I am looking forward to going cruising and may be some casual racing in between.

Jen: Sailing is a lifelong sport and just because we won a medal doesn’t mean we know everything about sailing. There’s still a lot to learn and I want to branch out. It’s too soon to say whether I will do another Paralympic campaign or not. I’d be foolish to say yes or no at this point.

Paralympic Games
Meet Jen French on Nov. 3 at US Sailing's Annual General Meeting. For more information about the AGM or to register: http://about.ussailing.org/US_Sailing_Meetings.htm