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Scuttlebutt News Center:

Bill Cabrall: "What an Olympic Campaign Did For Me"

In Scuttlebutt 1530, Mom explains what it felt like for me to lose the 1984 Star Olympic Trials. She's basically correct, but not entirely. If I'm going to end up in the spotlight for being dead last, here's what I really learned from that year:

Trying for the Olympics was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done, and an experience that everyone with the dream should attempt. Losing so badly really sucked, and it took incredible amounts of courage to keep going for the whole 10 days to finish the regatta.

When I got back everyone wanted to know if it was 'fun', a question that lingered on for months and was painful to answer. It wasn't 'fun' to watch a dream slowly grind itself into dust. But it was worth it to try. And we did have one perfect leg, the last leg of the last beat of the last race where everything clicked - the boat was fast, the strategy correct, the tactics perfect. That showed me the potential was there, if not the time or the resources.

Later that summer I spoke with another potential Olympian, at least until a broken arm washed him out of the wrestling trials. He also said it hadn't been fun, but that he had to try. "The Olympics are about losing." he said, "all those people try so hard, and give up so much, but only one person wins the medal. What really matters is how you deal with it, and what you carry forward in life. It takes character to put it all on the line, and then have to walk away with your head held high. It's hard, but it's worth it."

An accident of geography made me a part of the final arbitration panel for the Finn controversy in '84, and I got another lesson in character. When it was over, John Bertrand went to the games, Russ Sylvestri got mad, and Buzz Reynolds thanked me for my time, shook my hand, and walked away into the dawn a better man. While it will be interesting if I am ever recognized by Bertrand or Sylvestri again (hasn't happened yet), I'd drive my kids cross country for a chance to sail with Reynolds, because true hero's are hard to find.

That year I worked on a shuttle mission, and 7 months after the Trials astronauts went into space and came home safely based in part on my work (and a lot of other people's as well). That was an event that had to be won; there was no room for 'second,' no alternative to success. I put more effort into rocket science than sailing, and was rewarded when an astronaut, Ellison Onizuka, offered in jest to 'take me up' the next time he went. The offer, even in jest, is something I will never forget. 18 months later Ellison set off for space again, but only rode Challenger for a minute or so before it all came apart. I will never forget him, have never lost when it really counts, and know how to recognize the races that must be won.

That's what an Olympic campaign did for me.

Bill Cabrall

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