RIO DE JANEIRO – With a victory in the final race of the event, U.S. Paralympic Team sailors Rick Doerr (Clifton, N.J.), Brad Kendell (Tampa, Fla.) and Hugh Freund (South Freeport, Maine) have won silver medals in the Sonar class, the three-person Paralympic keelboat. For all three sailors it is the first Paralympic medal of their careers. Gold in the Sonar was won by the Australian team of Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Jonathan Harris. Bronze was secured by Paul Tingley, Logan Campbell and Scott Lutes of Canada. Several teams were in the running for the podium coming into the 6th and final day of the sailing events of Rio 2016, but Team USA saved their best race for last to win silver in dramatic fashion.
“Rick, Brad, and Hugh sailed a great series and earned their silver medal today by racing smart and fast in the final race, on a difficult course and under pressure,” said Josh Adams, Managing Director of U.S. Olympic Sailing, who served as Team Leader for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. “They’ve worked incredibly hard as a team over the years and deserve this result.”
Doerr, Kendell and Freund entered Rio 2016 as the reigning Para Sailing World Champions and had high hopes for a podium performance. Doerr, the helmsman, is the longest-tenured athlete on the U.S. Sailing Team, having campaigned for the Paralympic Games almost continuously since 1998. Rio 2016 was his second Paralympic appearance following an 8th place performance in Beijing 2008 with different teammates. For Kendell and Freund, Rio 2016 is their first career appearance at the Games.
“We came into today in a similar position as we had at the World Championship earlier this year, with everything to play for on the final day,” said Freund on the dock. “We really sailed the way the three of us know how to sail this boat.”
Kendell said that it was hard to put into words what this means for the three tight-knit athletes. “2016 has been unbelievable, and this is the year we’ve worked so hard for. Coming in as World Champions, you don’t want to let it get inside your head, but you know at least that you have a chance to medal.”
The team also paid tribute to their coach, Mike Ingham (Rochester, N.Y.) who worked intensively with Doerr, Kendell and Freund for the final two year years of the Rio 2016 quadrennium. “We had talent on our team, but Mike figured out how to make it all work,” said Freund. “If you look at our trajectory, it’s a huge testament to his ability as a coach to get the most out of people.” Ingham holds over 20 U.S. national and North American one-design sailing titles, and helped Doerr, Kendell and Freund win their first world championship as a team.
Doerr (56), a surgeon in his professional life, sustained an injury in a 1992 car accident that left him wheelchair-bound. Doerr had grown up sailing in New Jersey, but when he heard that sailing was to be a demonstration sport at the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games, it started him on a new and eventful path in the sport. Doerr narrowly missed qualifying for Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, and Athens 2004 before joining the U.S. Paralympic Team at Beijing 2008. As was the case in Brazil, Doerr entered the Games in China as the reigning Para Sailing World Champion, but he and his team could not find their way to the podium. Undaunted, Doerr teamed up with Kendell and Freund for a run at London 2012, and again narrowly missed selection.
Despite this setback, the three teammates profoundly enjoyed sailing together, and committed to campaigning for Rio 2016. Doerr’s longevity at the highest levels of adaptive sailing, as well as his success, makes his story all the more remarkable. As sailing has been removed from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games by the IPC, it is possible that Rio 2016 represented the last chance for the three sailors to accomplish their long-held goal.
Kendell (35) comes from a family of professional sailors, and his father Bruce got him started in the sport at age 7. A 2003 plane crash that claimed the lives of his father and a friend necessitated the amputation of both of Kendell’s legs above the knee. Kendell also sustained significant burns across his body, and the healing process was both long difficult. Getting back into the sport of sailing through adaptive competition proved therapeutic for the native Floridian, and a way to both remember and honor his father. Now a father himself, Kendell has said that long weeks on the road away from his family is the toughest aspect of the Paralympic path.
Freund (28) hails from the coast of Maine, and like his teammates is a lifelong sailor. During a 2007 ski trip, Freund discovered a problem with his leg that eventually revealed itself as an aggressive form of bone cancer. Freund survived the illness, but his right foot was amputated during his freshman year at Roger Williams University. Following a suggestion from his college sailing coach, Amanda Callahan (Bristol, R.I), Freund began competing in adaptive sailing, and quickly qualified for the U.S. Sailing Team. In an interesting twist of fate, one of Freund’s earliest coaches at the local Harraseeket Yacht Club in Maine was Dave Hughes (Miami, Fla.) who competed on the same race courses in August as part the Rio 2016 U.S. Olympic Sailing Team.
In addition to their 2016 accomplishments, the American Sonar team has amassed an impressive list of successes during their six years of racing together. The trio has won five medals at Sailing World Cup Miami, North America’s premier Olympic and Paralympic classes regatta, since joining forces. In 2015, Doerr, Kendell and Freund won the Sunbrella Golden Torch Award in Miami, given to the top-performing American boat at the event. They were the first Paralympic-class athletes to gain this distinction in the 26-year history of the event.