In general sailing is not a spectator sport. Races can take place far offshore, and any spectators who show up face the possibility of seaside breezes and brooding clouds.
But every four years, sailors come under the wide world’s gaze when they compete for a gold medal at the Olympics. This year, two graduating seniors are gunning for a place in the global spotlight as they prepare to leave Harvard and train for international competition.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
“A lot of people don’t necessarily realize how intense a sport sailing can be,” senior Marek Zaleski said. “Especially in classes as physical as the 49er and the laser, whoever works the hardest and is the fittest generally is the person who wins.”
Despite these physical challenges, sailing was something that Zaleski always knew that he wanted to do. He practically grew up on the water, spending time in a baby carrier on his dad’s chest while his dad steered the boat.
Starting when he was six, Marek began competing in Optimists, a class of dinghies. He moved up to bigger boats at the age of 12, which was when he fell in love with the laser.
Consisting of one sail, one sailor, and 14 feet of sleek design, the laser represents the purest form of sailing, one that requires impeccable technique to steer. Such a challenge appealed to Zaleski, perhaps because a willingness to confront difficulties head-on ran in his family.
Zaleski’s parents were born and raised in Poland. His mom immigrated to the United States first, carrying 25 dollars, a backpack, and nothing else. Less than two years later, his dad followed suit after his mom managed to obtain immigration papers with the assistance of an Oklahoma congresswoman.
Reunited in an unfamiliar country, the couple built their own businesses from the ground up. In this way, Zaleski gradually learned from his parents what sustained hard work and success looked like.
With such mentors in his life, Zaleski doesn’t shy away from the arduous road to the Olympics. As Zaleski explained, he quickly realized that there was a potential to do something special, namely to achieve success in a serious way and leave a mark on the sport.
Zaleski hopes to do so at the 2020 Olympics through the laser class, a race that includes 50 nations. Each country has its own selection process to determine which boat will compete.
After graduating on May 26th and competing at college nationals, Marek will fly to Europe for two months of training with the Polish national team. The process will include international races in January in New Zealand, Australia, and other locations early in the year.
Returning to Poland in the winter, Zaleski will start the sailing season in March.
Then, at least for Zaleski, it’s rinse and repeat for the next four years.
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