I never really understood why people crave celebrity autographs. Many of us have come to deify actors and musicians, but aside from pretending to be someone else on the screen or stage, I’m not sure what there is to gaga over! I’ve met my share of famous personalities, and even a few infamous ones (yes, for you Three Amigos fans, we all know that infamous is more than famous) and the last thing I wanted was for them to sign a scrap of paper, or some part of my clothing, or body. Sports stars and authors, I think, make a little more sense. To have a signed baseball as a memento of a memorable game, or a personalized copy of a gripping novel, is pretty neat. Aside from a Junior Johnson-signed bottle of moonshine, the only autographed items that I own and cherish are sailing books inscribed by the authors.

Prior to his departure for the IMOCA Ocean Masters New York to Barcelona Race (which he won), Annapolis sailor Ryan Breymaier gave an interview in which he spoke about motivating others to do what they love, whatever that might be. “Being an example of doing what you love and then good things coming to you because of that, to me is worthwhile,” said Ryan, who is one of a growing number of high-profile professional sailors proving that the U.S. is (and always has been) capable of producing athletes who are both successful and marketable.

To see American sailors gaining the recognition of other professional athletes is interesting and exciting, I think, for a few reasons. To me, this says that kids are really getting into the sport on a deeper level and are more excited about the people making waves out there. They have become role models. In the digital age we’re living in, to see a tweet or Facebook post that a certain boat is arriving with a particular ‘idol’ sailor at a specific time makes greeting that boat and that idol much easier than in the past. Meeting pro sailors – and yes, getting their autographs – just might inspire a young sailor to stay in the sport and go for Olympic gold, or fuel his or her drive to try big boats. So, if sailing’s ‘rock stars’ are garnering admiration previously reserved for stage or screen, that’s great and in the world of sailing, a guy like Charlie Enright of Bristol, RI is both, having showcased his skills on the big screen, and now as the skipper of a Volvo team. Inspiring indeed.

It’s gotta be cool to hear well-wishers cheering as you approach the dock and to then be swarmed by adoring fans before the lines are snug. This also shows that sailing is making strides as a marketable sport. I know this is somewhat contradictory to what my colleague Coop asserts in his column on page 58, but I think events like The Atlantic Cup wouldn’t have been a viable marketing platform for many of the sponsors or advertisers before the digital age – and showcasing products along with the personalities has always been a fit…remember Broadway Joe Namath’s shaving cream and Puma commercials? If “Joe Namath Scores in Pumas” got people interested in football, the high profile sponsorship of a Volvo Ocean Race team certainly worked to turns heads toward sailing. Big personalities with great stories are interesting to everyone – advertisers and fans alike – and sailing is perfect for it.

I’m glad to see that sailing athletes are beginning to achieve role model status here in the U.S. Yes, Coop is right – we have a long way to go, but we’re moving in the right direction and the more kids who are inspired, the more Ryan Breymaiers and Charlie Enrights the U.S. will produce in the future. Sailors like Ryan and Charlie have a lot on their shoulders – and being a great role model should weigh heavily, because they are helping to inspire the future of our sport.

See you on the water.

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