A year ago, Kirkland resident Helena Scutt was determined to qualify for the U.S. Olympic sailing team for the upcoming summer competition in Rio de Janeiro.
Now, the Stanford graduate, who is pursuing a master’s in mechanical engineering, has accomplished that goal.
Scutt and her skipper, Paris Henken, qualified for the Olympic team after pulling ahead of their rivals at the SISAF Sailing World Cup for 49erFX in Miami and the World Championship in Clearwater, Florida.
Beyond qualifying for the Olympics, their performance was proof that their dedication and training, which forced them to put off their education until later this year, has paid off in spades.
“It’s just been amazing knowing that we knew we could do it way back then,” Scutt said. “We weren’t that good but we stuck with it and improved a lot.”
Scutt said that the events acted as two qualifiers for the Olympics. One was to qualify as the North American representative, the other as the country’s rep.
At the first race, they took 17th overall, earning the country berth. However, with the closest U.S. team ranked 18th, place behind, in addition to what they considered to be a lackluster performance on their own part, Scutt said they entered the second event knowing they had to do their best.
“We had no gap,” she said. “We didn’t feel like we had sailed for our potential (the first time).”
At Clearwater, they found their stride and qualified for their country decisively, taking 13th overall. Scutt said it was their best race so far, and by the time they crossed the finish line, they knew were headed for Rio.
At the World Championship in 2013, Scutt and Henken took first place in their category, qualifying them for the U.S. National Sailing Team. That same year in December they earned a bronze medal at Copa Brasil de Vela, the Brazil Sailing Cup.
They’ve also received a lot of support in the form of donations to cover the costs for their competitions. A crowdfunding event held in October raised $15,000, and now that they’ve placed 13th she said they expect to get more funding as a result.
On top of juggling her sailing and education pursuits, Scutt has also managed to overcome numerous injuries. During the 2013 World Championship in southern France she was struck by the left wing of another boat, suffering a fractured vertebrae in her spine and several fractured ribs, as well as severe internal bleeding. Unable to walk for a while, she was still able to attend classes, but needed a golf cart to get around.
Last year, she suffered from carpal tunnel and was forced to put off sailing for six weeks following surgery.
“I was not sleeping with the pain, my hands would go numb all the time,” she said.
On top of their recent Olympics qualification, they also earned a bronze at the Pan American games in Toronto last year.
Regardless of how well they do at the Olympics this summer, Scutt said she’s going back to school to finish her master’s.
“We’ve been sailing a lot and traveling a lot and I think it will be good to go back for a year and then mix it up,” she said.