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USSTAG's Paralympic Class Athletes Participate in Training Camp at the Lakeshore Foundation

By Betsy Alison, US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics’ Paralympic Class Coach

Birmingham, Ala. (March 31, 2010) -- Fourteen Paralympic class sailors and six staff members spent three-and-a-half days at the Lakeshore Foundation last weekend, an official Olympic/Paralympic Training Center in Birmingham, Alabama. US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics’ (USSTAG) coaching and Performance Enhancement Team (PET) staff joined on-site staff at Lakeshore for strength, coordination, agility and flexibility testing as well as team building exercises and sport psychology sessions. Dr. Anne Allen, a team physician, met with sailors to discuss any health issues and concerns while psychologists Rick Campbell and Randy White met with teams and individuals during this camp.

USSTAG 2.4mR coach Marko Dahlberg said, “It is quite good to be able to work with the sailors on communication when we are not at a regatta. It helps me understand more how to talk to each of the guys in a way that works best for them.”

This camp was the second ever held for the USSTAG’s Paralympic class sailors – the first being held at Lakeshore in November of 2009. These camps provide an opportunity for athletes to see how they are progressing in their campaigns from a physical and mental training aspect.

After arriving on Thursday afternoon, the participants gathered to hear Rick Campbell speak on “Visualization,” using that technique to focus and enhance on water performance. Early the next morning, all of the sailors were put through a series of rigorous tests that measured everything from grip strength, body fat composition and weight to strength and endurance. Every participant can now compare their results to those from the November camp enabling them to see improvement in their physical and mental state. As we move closer and closer to the Paralympic Games in 2010, our USSTAG strives to be the fittest and most prepared team in the world! Looking at the results from the two training camps, it is apparent that many of our sailors are particularly strong in the upper body – especially our wheelchair athletes. Ten of the 14 sailors maxed out the 212 lb. stack of weights in the Three Rep Max test – of those, many pulled past the three reps to as many as 23 and 28 (which were two highest scores)!

The team enjoyed a motivational talk by Paralympic Gold Medalist Jen Armbruster from Goal Ball. She has now participated in five Paralympic Games and won gold and silver medals in the past two Games. Some of her messages to the team reinforced themes of the training camp: use visualization; “team mentality” is more important than focusing on “me”; and communication with teammates and staff is essential to peak performance.

USSTAGBoth sailors and staff participated in two team building exercises that were organized by Lakeshore.On Thursday,sailors were invited to “Shooting,” using air rifles to test their hand/eye coordination. One 2.4mR sailor, Mark LeBlanc, shot so well (187/200 points) that he is being scouted by the Paralympic Shooting team. Unfortunately, Mark likes the water better than lead shot, so the USSTAG is safe there!Participants also played eight-on-eight flag football on Saturday in the Field House -- all players in wheelchairs, making for some interesting tackles with Jim Leatherman airborne more than a few times. Communication and agility were key in this game with no mercy shown and no prisoners taken.

Chris Herrera, one of the USSTAG PET experts in training and physical therapy, worked with the sailors to help fine tune work-out programs, and to show athletes proper techniques in stretching, lifting, and training exercises.

Saturday afternoon activities included a sailing sports specific session on some strategic and tactical scenarios and decision making followed by some one-on-one sessions with the coaches, sport psychologist, trainer and team doc. In the evening, sailors were treated to a lecture on “How to Maintain Focus/Concentration During Competition and How to Refocus After Errors.”

The training camp concluded with a conference call session with Olympic Sailing Committee Chairman Dean Brenner on Fundraising tactics for an Olympic/Paralympic program. Sailors were given tips on how to establish effective databases of donors, using media and communication avenues to promote their programs, and how to be proactive in asking for help and support.

I was pleased by the success of this training camp, especially since this opportunity gives all of the sailors a sense of purpose and a chance to bond and work with teammates that they might normally compete against. By the end of the weekend, all participants were not only more motivated to move forward with their individual campaigns but are moving forward with a renewed sense of “team.”