Coast Guard Ensign Seeks Olympic Gold
[By Carol Bareuther and Trueson Tarinelli]
On average, less than two percent of collegiate athletes have the opportunity to compete at the next level. That opportunity is even more rare among service academies and Division III institutions like the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. In fact, while there have been a handful of elite athletes that have had some affiliation with the Coast Guard - including Arnold Palmer and Jack Dempsey, who both served enlisted - there has only been one Academy alum who competed in an Olympic games.
Coast Guard Academy Athletics Hall of Fame member Janine Bowman competed in shooting at the 2000 Olympics. In a few short years, however, the Academy may be able to add one more alumna to that list of Olympic participants – Ens. Nikole Barnes, Class of 2017, in the sport of sailing.
Anyone familiar with Coast Guard or collegiate sailing knows about Barnes. Born in the U.S. Virgin Islands, she sailed competitively nearly her entire life. It was her love of the sport that was the catalyst in her decision to attend the Coast Guard Academy.
A four-time All-American, she led the Academy to a national championship in 2016, and was named the National Women’s Sailor of the Year during her junior year. Among other accolades she earned at the Academy, she received one other impactful award during Billet Night 2017. Recognizing her potential to compete on the world stage, Barnes was assigned to Sector Miami’s Incident Management Division in order to be close to the U.S. Sailing Center and allow her to continue to train as a competitive sailor. She excelled at her first assignment and less than a year after graduation was awarded a Coast Guard Achievement Medal in April for her efforts as a marine environmental response branch director during Hurricane Irma.
In spite of this success as a Coast Guard officer, it became clear that simply being assigned to Sector Miami was not enough to properly train for world class competition. There are just not enough hours in the day. Thankfully, the Coast Guard stepped up and supported her again, and in April, Barnes was granted a new billet that would allow her to train full-time for the Olympics.
“Our ability to provide Barnes the opportunity to pursue her goal of representing our nation in the 2020 Olympics is just one example of the service’s efforts to develop and retain the talented women and men who make up the Coast Guard’s total workforce” said Rear Adm. Bill Kelly, assistant commandant for Human Resource. “Providing her the ability to train full time is indicative of our dedication to our people and our service to ensure we have a workforce prepared to meet the needs of the nation.”
U.S. Code 717 permits members of the Coast Guard to compete in and train for the Olympic Games, and qualifying events and preparatory competition. While it is not uncommon for officers from other branches of service to be granted similar orders, this marks the very first time this has been extended to a Coast Guard officer. And with that, Barnes has set her sights on gold in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Barnes’ specific event is the Women’s 470, a boat measuring 470 centimeters and requiring a skipper and one crew member. Barnes has teamed up with Lara Dallman-Weiss, a member of the New York Yacht Club, U.S. Sailing Development Team member in the 470 class in 2013, and North American champion in the Farr 40 class, and formed Perfect Vision Sailing.
Since officially teaming up in April, Team Perfect Vision Sailing’s Barnes and Dallman-Weiss have lost no time in kicking off their campaign.
First, the duo assembled a brain trust of advisors to offer feedback on immediate and long-term campaign strategy. This advisory board includes past Olympians and spans nationwide with members from Florida, New England and California as well as Coast Guard and non-Coast Guard members.
Secondly, Barnes and Dallman-Weiss accepted the donation of a hurricane-damaged 470. They started repairs in Florida, lashed the vessel rooftop and drove to Newport, Rhode Island, where they successfully splashed the fully rebuilt 470 in June.
The ‘Fletch’ was then ready for Olympic-level training partners to spar with the women as they train. Earlier this summer, the women practiced one-on-one against USA’s three-time Olympic Men’s 470 helmsman, Stuart McNay, and crew David Hughes.
In their first regatta together as a team, Perfect Vision Sailing’s Barnes and Dallman-Weiss finished first in the Women’s Division at the 470 National Championships and second overall after McNay and Hughes in 470 Men, in the first leg of the Oakcliff Triple Crown Series.
In early August, Barnes competed in the Hempel Sailing World Championship in Aarhus, Denmark, gaining valuable experience that will enable Barnes and Dallman-Weiss to evaluate themselves as a team and benchmark themselves against competitors who will be the other Women’s 470 teams they may meet in Tokyo. The women will not only honor the U.S. at this event, but the U.S. Coast Guard as well. In fact, Barnes commemorated Coast Guard Day on August 4, while in Denmark, by flying the U.S. Coast Guard flag during competition to honor the Long Blue line.
“This fall, we will use the knowledge gained in Aarhus to push hard on what we need to work on and to gear up before we start traveling on the European circuit next spring,” said Barnes.
Upcoming, major events in which Team Perfect Vision Sailing’s Barnes and Dallman-Weiss will compete are the second and third leg of the Oakcliff Triple Crown Series, October 13-14 and October 20-21, respectively, and the 2019 World Cup Series Miami, January 27 – February 3.
While the Coast Guard has granted Barnes the time to train for these events including the Olympics in 2020 there still remains a critical need for funding to make this vision of Olympic gold a reality! With this in mind the Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association established the Elite Athlete Excellence Fund for the purpose of providing financial support to Academy alumni who possess both talent and opportunity to pursue athletic competition at the professional, Olympic or elite level. Barnes is just the first Academy alum to benefit from this new fund.
“The boat we have is incredible and we are excited to get racing,” said Barnes. “We are so thankful for our supporters for helping us to get to this point, especially the Coast Guard for the opportunity to train and represent the Long Blue Line on the world level.”
This article appears courtesy of Coast Guard Compass and may be found in its original form here.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.