Caroline Atwood was just four years old when her father, George ’82, gifted her a boat for Christmas. Hailing from a family of ardent sailing enthusiasts, Caroline got her start on the water soon after at the Kollegewidgwok Yacht Club in Blue Hill, Maine.
“The biggest barrier between me and the Olympics – the first major hurdle – was being able to picture myself there and understand that it’s not an unachievable goal,” she says. “I did a training camp over Thanksgiving break during my junior year at Lawrenceville and they (Olympic sailors) were right there with us.”
Before Atwood came to Lawrenceville, she assumed she had wrapped up her competitive sailing career. But during fall break her first year, she realized how much she missed the sport and knew she had to get back in the water. After researching local, competitive travel teams, she found one on Long Island Sound, and the coach gave her a unique opportunity to join the team.
“It was just a wide open door in a scene that doesn’t usually have open doors,” she says. “I got in the door.”
Throughout the rest of her time at Lawrenceville, Atwood traveled every weekend – taking the train to one of her teammates’ houses near Long Island or back home to Connecticut -- so she could train with the sailing team. Her competitive sailing was in addition to her participation on Lawrenceville’s field hockey and women’s rowing teams. The grueling schedule paid off.
Atwood qualified for a world championship regatta – that ironically fell right during an end of term project for a history class. Luckily, History Master Cara Hyson P’14 ’16 ’21 made sure Atwood had the chance to complete her academic work and make the race.
“Since that experience of being able to work it out, I got higher and higher in the ranks of youth sailing,” Atwood says.
She continued sailing as a student at Tufts University, where she pursued a double major in political science and religion with a focus on Middle Eastern affairs. After graduating in 2016, she knew there was a four-year window before the next Olympic games, and decided to put her all into training and getting accustomed to Olympic sailing, which utilizes a different style of racing and boat than Atwood was used to.
“You need to break it down and see yourself along the process and be able to trust that each step of the way, because you will lose sight of the big picture at some point, but each step will get you there,” she says. “Our mantra is ‘trust the process.’ Put one foot in front of the other, have small, achievable goals and let them build on each other.”
In addition to all the physical athletic preparation Atwood is doing to train for her Olympic dream – including lots of time on the water, nutrition, fitness and sports psychology – she and partner Ravi Parent are charged with managing the business side of their Olympic campaign.
“It’s not just an athletic pursuit for me, it’s a business I’m trying to run,” says Atwood. “A lot of the soft skills help push me forward – talking with people, being an advocate for myself. I’m fortunate to have my Lawrenceville education to fall back on.”
She says that the most successful Olympic sailors are the ones who are also successful businesspeople who can dictate the conditions of their training.
“I would be a pretty successful athlete if I just showed up and did my thing, but that’s not what my job is,” she says. “My job is to figure out how to get myself on the boat with the best equipment and best shot of succeeding.”
Atwood says her goal now is to be a better learner than other competitors. Over the coming year, she and Parent will compete together in a number of races around the world in an effort to make the U.S. Olympic sailing team.
“Everybody’s working with a similar set of skills,” she says. “To get to the top, it’s not about being better than somebody else, it’s about maximizing your learning -- learning faster, differently. You have four years to get to the top of the game,” noting that the concept of “lifelong learning” is critical to Olympic athletes.
“I know I can do that in those moments when I doubt myself,” she says. “It’s about learning more effectively and learning faster, and I trust that I can do that.”We'd love to share your story with other Lawrentians. E-mail us here with your news or activities and we'll be in touch.