Vera Voorbach is back in her Liberty

In the entries list of the 2016 Hansa Worlds are a lot of famous sailors. One of those is former sailor of the Dutch Paralympic Sailing Team, Vera Voorbach. She has sailed with the Dutch team for the past three years with Coach Ronald van Vianen. She was the helm of the SKUD 18, sailing with Jan-Rein van Esseveldand preparing for the Paralympics Games in Rio de Janeiro this year. For three years they only sailed to win, learned everything they could and gained much experience in the SKUD 18. After the World Championships in Melbourne in December 2015, the team quit the campaign as they didn’t meet the NPC/NSF qualifications for a ticket to Rio. This doesn’t mean the end of Vera’s sailing career – this spring we’ll see her back on the water at the 2016 Hansa Worlds.

“This March I’m going to pick up my Liberty from the barn”, explains Vera. For three years this boat has been standing in storage. Vera has been sailing all her life. “My first experience in a sailing boat was within a month after I was born. This was in the summer, and my parents had a sailing vacation planned. We lived in Friesland and we had a boat, so I’ve grown up afloat. When I was six years old I got my own boat, just like the other kids at that age. I sailed a Junior Jol, my father always sat with me in the boat. I was born with a high paraplegia, so I couldn’t sail the boat on my own. He was in charge of the sails and made sure we didn’t capsize.” Vera was born in a breech delivery and injured her neck. She is accustomed to living with a spinal cord injury and always being with someone who takes care of her.

Sailing alone

“The first time I sailed all by myself, it felt really cool. I sailed the Jol till I was twelve and after that I joined my parents again on their boat. When I went to university the sailing went more to the background. But after my study I joined Sailability, and started sailing in their Hansa boats.” At Sailability she also sailed on her own in a Hansa 2.3. “It was a little bit of freedom for me to go out on the water alone. I thought I was pretty cool as well. At Sailability I started purely for recreation sailing, but very soon we started more serious training for regattas. My first regatta was in France. As there were no opportunities for us to race in the Netherlands, we always had to travel. We entered the French Championships and there were some very good English sailors, but most of the sailors were inexperienced like us. I ended up in second place overall and really got the taste of it. After this race I wanted more and together with one of my sailing mates from Sailability, Wilma van den Broek, I kept on training for regattas. She had her own boat, a Liberty, so I decided to buy the same and we went training in Zeewolde. Since we both live in Harderwijk, this was more logical because it was closer then the Sailability location. We trained together until I joined the Dutch Sailing Team end 2012.”

Dutch Sailing Team

Even though Vera had a fulltime job, she saw the Dutch Water Sports Union Talent Days as an opportunity, and it was Coach Ronald van Vianen who spotted her. “We started the following intake weekend with 35 sailors – a big group of aspiring Paralympians. During this weekend we were told how much work a campaign toward the Paralympics Games can be, how much time you have to spend and what you have to give up. There were a lot of sailors who stepped out after this. The next group to step out of the selections came after the medical assessments. You need to have a certain degree of disability to sail at a Paralympics level.”

Vera was in the same group as Rolf Schrama and Guus Bijlard. Rolf continues his Paralympics campaign with Sandra Nap and they are still in the running for a ticket to Rio. Rolf had never sailed before the Talent days. Guus has had to quit his Paralympics campaign due to his recovery. During the medical assessment, the doctors said he met the disability criteria and was eligible to go to the Paralympics. So he embarked on a campaign and won the 2013 IFDS World Championship in the 2.4mR. Guus had a skiing accident in 2012 which resulted in a spinal cord injury. His following sailing carrier was very short, but with very high achievements. He recovered quickly from the accident and by 2014 he was no longer able to qualify for Paralympic competition.

Most sever disability

“There are certain levels of disability, I’m in the highest level”, continues Vera. “You are measured on a scale from 1 to 7, where 1 is the most sever disability. This is the level I’m in. The requirements for an SKUD team really spoke to me, as there has to be a woman in the team and the helm needs to have a classification of 1 or 2. I’ve also had some sailing experience, so I had high hopes for myself.” Vera’s hopes were answered and she partnered up with Jan-Rein in a SKUD 18. After that, they started their first training camps abroad and preparations for the 2016 Paralympics Games.  “We had to work very hard and didn’t get paid. To manage my income, I kept on working so my life was all about training and working. A lot of people didn’t understand it, I could see why. But for me it was such a big opportunity and had a chance to learn all about sailing. Yes, I was already a sailor and knew how to do it, but during the period in the Dutch team I learned how to navigate and skipper the boat the best I could. Jan-Rein was in charge of the sails and learnt all about this.”

“The past three years we have experienced a lot. During the past World Championships in Melbourne we had dolphins swimming around the boat. The timing wasn’t very good because we were in the middle of a race, but is was still really special. When we were in Canada last year we already had some sea lions close by the boat. And in the short time at the Team I’ve seen a whole lot of the world. Although most of what we saw of each country was the waterside and the hotel, but it was a great experience. I never regret the choice I made in 2012.” Like every athlete it’s an ongoing commitment that you take on – a lot of travelling, remaining achievement orientated and a big investment on so many levels. “It really has to be you passion. You hardly have any spare time and have to invest big time. You invest most in yourself, your own development. After Melbourne, we stepped out of the Dutch team as Rio 2016 wasn’t within our reach anymore. Now it’s time for me to rest a bit. When the sailing season starts I’ll go on the water again and start training in my Liberty. But not three days a week anymore.”

Training for 2016 Hansa Worlds

The preparations for the 2016 Hansa Worlds will start in March for Vera. She’s going to train together with a group of Dutch sailing friends. The Dutch Water Sport Union is also going to organise a trainings weekend in Medemblik. Vera will definitely be there. A week later she will compete in her first race again in Grou.

What are her expectations for the 2016 Hansa Worlds? “I don’t have high expectations, I haven’t sailed in my Liberty for the past three years. Yes, I did sail and train a lot, but so have many others.  For me it’s been a while since I sailed all by myself. I’ll definitely miss my gennaker – it’s really fast racing with this sail. And I’ll miss Jan-Rein – he always stopped a lot of water in front of the boat. Now I’ll be much wetter!” Vera smiles. “To be serious, I’ve done the achievement orientated sailing for three years, I don’t need to do this anymore. But when I’m in the boat, I always want to win.”

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