Just 2-1/2 years ago, Nikki Barnes and Laura Dallman-Weiss formed their team Perfect Vision Sailing to campaign the 470 in the 2020 Olympics. They started in the reverse of most sailing campaigns, racing right away and never finding the time to solidify basic foundational skills. When the 2020 Olympics were rescheduled to 2021, the global pandemic offered up a silver lining for the pair.
Here, Lara provides an update on how she and Nikki have been using their pandemic time. They have been in Miami sailing since May and while initially their concerns were around what it would be like to train completely alone, those thoughts quickly diminished when they realized just how lucky they were to have so much alone time to simply focus.
“I haven’t since thought about training alone – these past months have been amazing,” Lara said. “We were missing a lot of the foundation in our team, we needed to focus on boat handling and the very basics of the 470 because it’s so complex,” Lara said. “We needed more time.”
The first hurdle was ensuring that Nikki would be able to take the extra year from her job with the Coastguard to train. While in lock-down and unable to sail right after the pandemic hit, Nikki worked as much as she could and was ultimately granted the extra year off from the Coastguard.
Robby Bisi, their coach, has been with them throughout this time as also he lives in Miami. From the get-go he prescribed time on the water for the rest of the year.
“We spend a lot of time on the water – we do a training box in 24-day periods where we do five days on, two days off,” Lara explained.
Robby has been mixing up the on-water training, recently putting together a six-day practice, obviously without other boats but it played out beautifully in giving the pair an opportunity to practice pre-race routine and work on the endurance of sailing for six days in a row, managing emotions and energy levels.
“One of the biggest things for us has been nailing down exactly what we do before we race,” Lara said. “We got that routine to within an hour timeline with what we wanted and needed to do.”
Self-motivation is naturally an important trait for an Olympic hopeful but normally sailors are in contact with other teams, whether it be regattas or clinics, which helps feed motivation. For Lara and Nikki, the lack of contact with other teams was initially the biggest battle to overcome when the pandemic hit.
“We’d come home and our whole world would be on social media,” Lara said. “We’d find ourselves scrolling through to see what our competitors were doing which in turn made me ask the question of myself, “Am I doing enough?” When we finally met as a team and focused on our personal goals, disregarding what everyone else was doing, we could focus on meeting our goals. With no other boats to go up against, we are trying to do our personal best which is our goal, and to really learn the little nuances of the 470 so that we don’t need other boats to sail against, we’re just sailing our best.”
A big part is fitness and dealing with the heat that they experienced training in Japan last year. Fortunately, Miami has similar conditions to those Nikki and Lara experienced in Japan so they have been able to focus on recovery and nutrition, how they can feel their best and not get heat stroke which has been another blessing. As crew, Lara’s job is very physical, so she has been concentrating on her fitness and focusing on heartrate zones and fitness goals like muscle building.
“These have been good goals for me,” Lara reported. “Robby set up a bunch of short races for us and some of them I could pump the whole time so that the kinetics flag was up and he’d be watching my heartrate to see how long I could do things for.”
She and Nikki both work with nutritionists and being able to be home with limited distractions, the pair have made big developments into nutritional planning.
“We’re both at about the right weight so that means when we are training really hard, we have to work just as hard to keep it on,” Lara explained. “Because we train so much, we end up consuming a lot of gels, goos, powders, and stuff, so on “off” days I like to eat super basic like whole foods – real food!”
They’ve both created documents with different meal plans and have become specific with what they may consume on the morning prior to a race, when and how to hydrate, and eating more carbs before getting on the water.
From an emotional perspective, Lara reports that she and Nikki are coping well. They each work with a psychologist and have a team psychologist who works closely with Robby.
“I speak with my sports psychologist every Sunday and we talk for about an hour about what happened during the week,” Lara said. “A lot of it is the stories we tell ourselves so if I change that to what I want, it just makes things very positive. Robby, Nikki, and I are all in this together but we’re crying at different times and are very different people. This work helps us to be compassionate of, and understand, each other. It makes our practices highly effective and unemotional.”
And of course, keeping an eye firmly fixed on the finish line is ultimately the goal.
“It really helps having goals and I feel awful for people right now who don’t have a long-term goal,” Lara commented. “I think that’s something that’s driving us every day.”
This past month the pair have been training in Santander, Spain with a group of 10-12 470s. They’re feeling extremely fortunate to have been invited to this camp, as Lara noted, “We’re loving the big wave conditions, the venue is one of the best we have been to yet!”
* The final qualification opportunity for the Women’s 470 class is the 2021 World Championship, scheduled for March 5-13, 2021 in Vilamoura, Portugal.