Northwestern freshman leads the way for sailing team
Northwestern University’s sailing team is coming off a successful spring season with a combined array of individual and group awards.
Perhaps the only surprising feat this year has been the emergence of an unlikely team leader—a freshman.
Kate O’Donnell has made great strides her freshman season and is an integral part of the team’s future moving forward. This season, she served as fleet captain for her squad.
Fleet captain is an all-important position in sailing. O’Donnell’s responsibilities are vital, including the challenging tasks of organizing and running regattas.
“Organizing a regatta means recruiting race committee members and judges, coordinating with them to ensure we have all the necessary resources, keeping in contact with all competing teams, finding housing for out of town teams, gathering the NU team to help out both days, making sure everything goes smoothly over the weekend, and doing all the necessary PR, scores, and write ups during the regatta. It can be a lot of work,” O’Donnell told Chicago City Wire.
There are usually three regattas a year in Evanston, but they are organized months in advance. All of this does not include her most important responsibility — fixing boats and taking them for repairs when necessary.
While fleet captain is a role O’Donnell is comfortable with, she has greater aspirations.
“I love being fleet captain, and hope to go on to be captain next year and have a more integral role in leading the team,” she said.
For O’Donnell, sailing is something that comes naturally. She’s been doing it since she was 8 years old, when her parents sent her to summer camp at the Chicago Yacht Club Belmont Station. She worked her way through different levels of vessels and regattas, starting in Prams and working her way up to 420’s by the time she was 13.
“I instantly fell in love with the sport, and have been hooked ever since,” O’Donnell said. “Even from the beginning, I knew sailing was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
Sailing is her passion, and she found it by coincidence. That passion has led her to Northwestern, and an excellent freshman season.
O’Donnell typically alternates between driving and crewing the fleets, and even earned herself Northwestern sailor of the month honors in April.
However, her most memorable moment in her first season also exemplifies what kind of leader she hopes to become.
“The most memorable moment of my first year with the team was undoubtedly qualifying for women's nationals. All of the girls sailed so well the entire day,” O’Donnell said.
The day was no doubt a memorable one for the Northwestern sailing program. The women’s team entered the second to last race in a three-way tie for third, but were able to secure that last qualifying spot due to their final two results.
Students tend to disperse for the summer, and will have to practice on their own to prepare for next season and their attempt to qualify once more, and O’Donnell is no exception.
She spends her summers at the beach teaching children how to sail. After learning the sport herself at a young age, O’Donnell is paying it forward.
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