How Paralympic Gold Medalist Paul Tingley sailed Canada’s Sonar team to Rio

Paul Tingley, celebrating a gold medal at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.
Paul Tingley celebrates a gold medal at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.

Three men with completely different backgrounds have worked tirelessly to mesh together like interchangeable parts. What once began as three individuals, each with their own story, their own way of doing things, has slowly evolved into a well-oiled machine.

Their names are Paul Tingley, Logan Campbell, and Scott Lutes — and together they form the Canadian Sonar sailboat team.

The trio began working together after the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Prior to the conclusion of those games, Tingley was the sailor in the 2.4 mR single-seated boat. He became known as one of the fiercest competitors and most talented sailors in the world.

After falling short of the podium in London, his fourth Paralympic Games, Tingley altered his course. He switched places with Sonar skipper Bruce Millar and joined forces with Campbell and Lutes in a Canadian Paralympic sailing shake up. But Tingley was more than familiar with how things worked on a three-man boat. He started his international career and made a name for himself on the water working as a team of three. He was a Paralympic bronze medalist in his debut at the Games in 2000 in Sydney. After a seventh place finish in 2004 in Athens, he set his sights on the single-boat classification and sailed his way to a gold medal four years later in Beijing.

He was number one in the world.

Canada's Sonar team skipper, Paul Tingley
Canada’s Sonar team skipper, Paul Tingley

After a fifth place finish in London, Tingley was ready to take on a new challenge. That was when his working relationship with Campbell and Lutes began.

“Joining a three-person team is a completely different experience, because it’s not three individuals. It’s got to be a team,” Tingley said from his hotel room in Rio de Janeiro. “We’ve had to start at ground zero getting to know each other and working together, and it takes time. We’re still always trying to get better.”

And that’s exactly what they’ve done.

The trio are as close to inseparable as can be when they are travelling and preparing for the next regatta on the schedule. Same flight, same hotel room, same dinner table, same boat. They spend as much time as they can together because they know it’s that important for them to be completely and effortlessly in sync on the water. While the trio works together in synergy, they each offer something different to the team and their skill-sets compliment each other exquisitely.

Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic sailing head coach Ken Dool broke down how he views the dynamic of a team he works so closely with.

“With no disrespect to Logan or Scott, Paul is a known quantity as a double medalist from the Paralympics and a World Champion in the 2.4 metre. A gold medalist in the 2.4 metre. Just a talented sailor,” said Dool. “The other guys are exceedingly hard workers and their skill level — I would say without exaggeration — if you can improve more than 100%, they have.”

That’s what makes the Canadian Sonar team such an interesting dynamic. Coach Dool called their cohesion “fascinating”. Tingley’s experience and leadership qualities make him the ideal skipper. He is responsible for reading the wind, the water, and his gut instincts to make the best decision he can for his team.

Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Head Coach, Ken Dool.
Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Head Coach, Ken Dool.

“Paul is one of the best sailors that I’ve ever worked with, in able-bodied or disabled, in terms of skill and being able to get up and down the course,” said Dool. “His understanding of how you get a boat around the race course quickly and effectively is second to none.”

Tingley would be the first one to tell you he needs his teammates and friends just as much as they need him. In his calm and personable tone, he spoke highly of his fellow sailors and what they bring to the table.

“Scott is our rig master, he sets the rig up so the boat is going fast. He’s kind of like the professor, he’s got the numbers. He knows right down to the millimetre how to tweak this shroud versus the other shroud. We rely on him to make that happen and he’s very good at that,” Tingley said, with his teammate sitting next to him in the hotel room.

“Logan is our main sail trimmer and he is 100% energy. He is working the main sail with all his physical might and he is a force. He is very attentive of all the other boats. He’s always looking around and he’s got a lot of good verbal feedback. He is always focused in the moment.”

With all three of them committed to their roles on board, success has followed the Sonar team. At the World Championships in Halifax, N.S. in 2014, the trio sailed to a silver medal and solidified their spot in the fleet at the 2016 Games in Rio. They seemed destined for a championship in Tingley’s hometown, until one mistake cost them their gold medal on the final day of the regatta. But the positivity the three men share is contagious, and the team quickly moved on to their next challenge.

Fast forward to January of 2016 at the World Championships in Miami. With nine of the worlds best competing in the fleet, Canada sailed to a gold medal victory and once again Tingley found himself sitting on top of the world.

It didn’t take long for his team to move on and start thinking about one of the biggest regattas of their lives — which was only eight months away.

“It’s a marathon and we just have to stick to the process. Every start is a different situation and every tack, every jive, every mark rounding, you just have to keep focused and concentrated on it,” Tingley said. “At the end of the day, the team that can keep their focus up and minimize their mistakes will win the regatta every time.”

Now with the games in Rio rapidly approaching, Canada’s Sonar team, accompanied by Coach Dool, are in Brazil adapting to the culture and getting their boat in the water as often as they can during their two week stay. They are joined by their American training partners along with seven other nations to get their feet wet at the venue and run a practice Regatta to get a handle on the racing conditions.

While Tingley is an avid volunteer and enjoys coaching the next generation of sailing stars, everything has been put on the back burner to focus on the regatta in September. Campbell, who works full time near his home in Saskatoon, Sask. and Lutes, who runs a business with his wife in Mahone Bay, N.S., are zeroed in on the same mindset as their skipper.

Sailing can be unpredictable, and often unforgivable.

But the three Canadian individuals, who have opened their minds and hearts to one another, are as ready as they ever have been for the challenge that awaits them.

“If they perform to the best of their ability, they will win the medal. The colour of the medal is going to depend on how few incorrect decisions they make and how few other teams make,” said Coach Dool. “At the end of the day, the expectation is to win a medal. What are we targeting? We want to hear the anthem play and see the flag go up.”



Photo Credit: Canadian Paralympic Committee // Sail Canada

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