Representing your country is always a privilege, but to stand at the top of the podium with the flag raised behind you and your national anthem playing in the background is an honour only a few get to experience, yet every sports person strives for. A year ago, International Para Sailor Chris Symonds from North West Tasmania, Australia took home a silver medal from the Para World Championships in Germany. Last month, Chris travelled to Wisconsin, USA and went one better when he sailed his way to the top to be crowned the Hansa 303 Men’s Category 2018 World Champion.
We had a great trip to Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA – to win the Hansa 303 Male division of the 2018 Para Sailing World Championships was amazing against so many great sailors from around the world.Chris Symonds - 2018 World Champion
No stranger to success, Chris has picked up numerous titles over the years, both in para events and competing in open competitions, which include predominantly able-bodied competitors. A sufferer of Kennedy’s Disease, a rare and progressive genetic condition, which affects mobility and speech, Chris doesn’t let that hold him back and once in the water he’s proved himself as a threat to whoever he’s racing against.
I cannot think of another sport that I could compete in and win a World Championship. I am not able to walk 10 metres unaided and have limited strength in all areas of my body due to the effects of Kennedy’s Disease but with the correct equipment we can achieve outstanding results.Chris Symonds - 2018 World Champion
He describes the deciding factors of the competition to be based on the sailors’ preparation, skill and nerve – as they all compete in identical conditions and equipment, these are the only variables which will affect the outcome. The inclusivity of the sport and fairness of competition made a recent decision about the future of the sport that much harder to accept.
Forty- three countries arrived to participate in the championship but whilst spirits were high for this much-anticipated event, some news received just a couple of days before the start sparked disappointment throughout the teams. In 2015 Para Sailing was removed from the Tokyo Paralympic schedule following discussions over the lack of accessibility and worldwide participation, criteria that the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) have in place for sports to be included. The events went ahead for Rio 2016 Paralympics but World Para Sailing have been pushing for it to be reinstated for the Paris 2024 programme, an application which was officially denied just before the start of this World Championship event.
World Sailing has been proactive in making sailing more affordable to the not so wealthy countries, a key development to support their inclusion in future Paralympic programmes, with cost and ease of transport important criteria. The changes made since Rio 2016 strongly support these goals and Chris describes the sport as being in no doubt more accessible than before it was removed from the schedule. Unfortunately, although the decision was not due to be announced until January 2019, the early response meant that the worldwide representation of sailors at the World Championships was not a factor that was taken into consideration during the appeal process and the application to include Para sailing in the Paris 2024 Paralympic programme was denied.
Although evidently passionate and determined to continue to improve the sport and increase opportunities for himself and his fellow sailors, Chris is committed to training to be the best that he can be as well as mentoring and training others, regardless of any future outcomes. With little time to relish in his success, in just two weeks Chris will be back on the world stage once again to compete in the Open World Championships in Japan, where he will be hoping to retain his World Championship title up against sailors both with and without a disability. In addition to this event, racing in the two-up division, he is hoping to improve on the silver medal they won last time, where he’ll be pairing up with coach, friend, carer and long-term sailing partner Mike Darby – an experience he describes as very special.
We thank COINS Foundation for their ongoing support of Wynyard Yacht Club and supporting our goals to race at the top level.Chris Symonds - World Champion
We wish Chris and Mike the best of luck in Japan as he looks to take on the world once more.