Meet Marion sailor Sara Stone
MARION - Marion resident Sara Stone has an unusual dream.
The former epidemiologist decided to switch tacks and become a professional offshore sailor after watching an all-female sailing team complete the Volvo Ocean Race (now the Ocean Race) in 2015.
The Ocean Race is the world’s most prestigious around-the-globe offshore sailing event, held every three to four years.
“In the sport of offshore sailing there are very few women,” Stone said. “So to have an all-female team — I’d never even thought that the Ocean Race would be a possibility for me, because it just wasn’t something that girls did.”
“I was just watching, like on the edge of my seat tracking this team,” she said. “Basically I got it into my head, that could be me.”
So Stone quit her job studying ebola for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Fort Collins, Colorado — the first time in her life she’d ever not lived near the ocean — to pursue her passion.
Now a professional sailor at 28, her ultimate goal is to become a competitor in next year’s Ocean Race.
But her first love was actually rowing, which she did first at Tabor Academy and later at Dartmouth College, where she completed her undergraduate degree.
Stone only taught sailing over the summers, a skill she had picked up from cruising on her parents’ 35-foot boat and smaller boats at the Beverly Yacht Club.
“I loved being on the water, but I wasn’t particularly psyched on sailing,” she remembered. “All my friends were doing it, it was fun, it was a summer activity.”
But one summer she ended up teaching on 50-foot sailboats in the British Virgin Islands, and found she loved it. “I literally Googled ‘teaching sailing Caribbean,’” Stone admitted with a smile.
She still goes down every year to teach sailing for a leadership program at UPenn’s Wharton School of Business.
And she even wrote her graduate dissertation on a sailboat.
“I’m a lunatic,” she said with a grin. “I showed up on this boat, and I had this folder with everything printed. I couldn’t rely on the internet.”
Over one summer during grad school, Stone spent two weeks sailing 2,000 miles from Mexico to Panama to make sure she actually liked the job.
“It was the longest trip I’ve ever done,” she said. “And I absolutely loved it.”
Since then, she’s been gaining as much sailing experience as possible all over the world, and finally turned pro in 2019.
In spite of the difficult lifestyle — there’s a lot of living out of suitcases, and a grueling schedule — Stone wouldn’t have it any other way. “Living the dream,” she said with a smile. “[I’m] so psyched about it, all the time.”
She is constantly working towards her goal. “I try to do everything I can to make myself the most valuable person I can be at the time that teams start to put themselves together,” she said.
Sailors have to be invited to try out for the Ocean Race.
And Stone has already been rejected once. She tried out for the 2017-18 race in Lisbon, but didn’t get a spot.
“That was the first time I’d been on a boat that big, that complicated,” she said.
But it hasn’t stopped her. “I’m far more determined for having been turned down once,” she said.
And if all goes well, if she achieves her dream — what then?
Stone laughed. “Last year, world sailing announced that they’re adding a new event to the Olympics,” she said with a gleam in her eye. “So the Paris 2024 Olympic Games will feature an offshore sailing event.”
But for now, she’s focused on one thing at a time.
“I’ve picked this. I didn’t fall into this,” she said. “So I’m ready to learn, and I’m ready to work hard. And I’ll be the first person there and the last person to leave every day. And I’ll carry my weight, and make it happen.”
“I choose it every day,” she added. “At least until it’s not fun any more.”