By Karen Price | Aug. 22, 2017, 11:56 a.m. (ET)

Erika Reineke sails in the Egaa Marina on Aug. 13, 2017 at a test event before the Hempel Sailing World Championships Aarhus 2018. 

 

Olympic sailing hopeful Erika Reineke’s favorite part about racing — other than crossing the finish line first — is downwind sailing.

At the moment where she rounds the mark to head downwind she thinks of a song. If it’s a sunny day, she usually picks something in the country genre. If it’s choppy or windy or the weather’s not good she goes with something harder, sometimes even punk rock. 

“I just pick a song to play in my head and then I just don’t think about anything other than trying to go fast,” she said. “It’s really relaxing.”

Reineke will have lots of time to listen to her mental jukebox these next three years as the recent Boston College graduate devotes herself full-time to trying to go to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. This week she is competing at the Laser Radial Women’s World Championship going on in the Netherlands now through Saturday. 

Reineke began sailing at age 8 at Lauderdale Yacht Club in Florida, and by the time she was 12 she was starting to win titles. That was also the age that she heard Anna Tunnicliffe speak at a fundraiser at the club. The future gold medalist’s passion and love for sailing and the way she talked about wanting to give it everything she had struck a nerve in Reineke. Her Olympic dream was born.

As she progressed through the youth circuit in the radial, Reineke continued collecting medals and titles around the world. Her success continued at Boston College, where she became a four-time ICSA college sailing national single-handed championship winner. After three years of being a finalist for the Quantum Women’s Sailor of the Year award, she won it in May to close out her college career. 

Since then, there hasn't been much downtime.

“Right after graduation we had college sailing nationals, then I had a week off and flew to Europe to compete,” she said. “I wasn’t in the best shape coming out of college, but I went there and tried my best and gave it my all. I also started working with a new coach, Steve Mitchell, and finished in sixth in my first regatta we did together. Since then we’ve just been trying to move up in the rankings and training.”

Although Reineke expected that devoting her time 100 percent to training and getting better was going to be difficult, she said it’s been even harder than she thought. 

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A typical day for Reineke includes getting up at 6 a.m., going for a run and doing some strength training before breakfast. Then she’ll meet Mitchell at the boat park and they’ll talk about the training plan for the day. From there, they go out on the water for a few hours and come back, completely exhausted, she said, and do a debriefing back on shore discussing what they learned and what happened that day. Then she often heads back to the gym for another session, then heads home for some dinner and a little relaxation time before getting up to do it all over again the next day. 

Her workouts aren’t easy, either. They come from Tunnicliffe, who inspired her at age 12 and now helps train her at age 23. Tunnicliffe retired from Olympic sailing but has enjoyed an impressive career in CrossFit, and the two stay in touch regularly.

“She schedules my gym programs, which I sometimes like and sometimes don’t,” said Reineke, who is ranked 14th in the world in laser radial. “Every week I get that sheet of paper and it’s like, ‘What the hell am I going through this week?’ But it’s good.”

Reineke has enjoyed some impressive finishes at the world championships, including a sixth place finish in 2016, 10th in 2015 and 14th in 2014. She also won silver earlier this month in Denmark at the test event for next year’s world championships, which will also be the first chance to qualify quota spots for the 2020 Olympics.

At this year’s world championships, Reineke said, although the goal is always to win, she doesn’t believe she’s had enough time putting in the work to consider herself at the top of the fleet. And although she’s going to work hard, she said, the goals she and Mitchell have set have nothing to do with positioning.

“It’s more about being objective on the race course,” Reineke said. “We’re not necessarily trying to podium, it’s more just what we need to work on in this event so that when the Olympic trials come around we have this in our back pocket. It’s about learning those skills and honing in on them and moving up.”

Reineke admitted that shortly after college graduation when she started to see her friends entering the workforce, finding apartments and starting that new phase of their lives, she had a moment of reflection on whether or not she was choosing the right path pursuing her Olympic dream.

“Still in my heart, after asking that question, I was like, ‘This is what I want,’” she said. “This is something I’ve always wanted. It’s scary because you never know what the outcome is going to be, but it’s something I want to give my all to. Ever since that reflection I haven’t looked back. I’m just so excited to have this opportunity. It might not ever come again.”

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.