Roller is mastering a new boat, the 49er FX, above, a high performance skiff for women, in her new Olympic bid.
McComb and Roller get a feel for the new trapeze style 49er FX.
After competing in the Summer Olympic Games in 2012 in the United Kingdom, St. John sailor Mayumi Roller knew she wanted to return to the world’s biggest sports stage, yet helming a different boat this time.
“Going to the Olympics the first time was amazing; it was such a surreal experience,” said Roller. “I wanted to go again but after sailing the Laser for that long, I knew it wasn’t the right boat for me.”
Roller was about 30 pounds lighter than the rest of the fleet, meaning with any kind of wind, she simply couldn’t keep up.
“It was tough, in any sort of windy conditions, to keep up with the lead,” said Roller. “I just didn’t have the mass; they were bigger, like 30 pounds bigger. I knew I wanted to transition to a new boat.”
For her first Olympic bid, Roller took a year off from her studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where she competed on the sailing team. She has since graduated and now is an assistant coach for the sailing team.
As she was eyeing a second bid at the Olympics, this time in Brazil in 2016, Roller had several different boats from which to choose, but the trapeze style women’s 49er FX, a high performance skiff, was by far the most appealing, she explained.
“There were a couple of different classes I could have gone into, but the 49er FX seems to be the best by far,” said Roller.
The FX rigs are a recent advancement for the men’s Olympic 49er skiff hull, yet with a reduced sail area for women’s sailing. The 49er FX boats were chosen for the Brazil games just this past May and represents the leading technology of sailing.
The St. John sailor chose the 49er FX for this Olympic campaign and got a used boat for her college graduation present. Roller, 22, is sailing with fellow St. Mary’s graduate Kayla McComb, also 22, who is establishing residency on St. John to represent the Virgin Islands in Brazil in 2016 along with her sailing partner.
McComb and Roller both sailed for St. Mary’s but didn’t sail regularly in the same boats. Roller had sailed with McComb several times before her last Olympic campaign, however, and was impressed, she explained.
“I sailed with Kayla a few years ago before I took the year off for London and I always thought she was by far the best crew I’ve ever sailed with,” said Roller. “I always wanted to continue sailing with her and she was the first person I asked when I decided to pursue this.”
McComb spent time at the America’s Cup in San Francisco after graduating from St. Mary’s and knew she wasn’t ready to walk away from sailing, she explained.
“Being around all those sailors who were still pursuing their passion and making it work, I already missed it and I was out of college sailing for only a month,” McComb said.
Both women sailors decided the 49er FX was the boat for them.
“It seems the best fit moving forward because sailing is so technologically advanced these days and this is the next boat for women,” said McComb. “It’s trapeze style and you are perpetually standing on the side with a wire on your waist. It’s very engaging.”
With their new 49er FX in California, where McComb was living, Roller took two trips out to train on the new vessel in Santa Barbara.
“The first trip was definitely just really getting used to the feel of the boat,” said Roller. “I had never really trapezed before in my life so just getting used to trapezing and steering at the same time was tough. It was all very new and overwhelming.”
“The margin of error on these boats is really small,” McComb said. “They sail at wind speed and things happen really fast, you have to be on your toes.”
By Roller’s second training trip to California, the ladies had the hang of the new boat and made some progress.
“The second trip I made out there was definitely more productive,” said Roller. “We were both more comfortable and trusting each other with the different roles we’re supposed to have.”
McComb is set to drive the ladies’ boat from California to Florida where the two plan to race in several regattas this winter. They will leave for Europe in mid-June where their first regatta of their summer is in Germany.
Roller and McComb will have their first chance at qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in September 2014 at the World Championships in Spain. The ladies will need to finish among the top 10 countries at the worlds to have their tickets to the Olympics punched.
While they certainly have the ambition, the passion and the drive, what these two striving athletes need is funding. The two will need to purchase a 49er FX for their European regattas and training, as well as pay for travel, meals and accommodations for themselves and a coach, who will also have to be paid.
“We are looking at about a $100,000 budget per year for our campaign,” said McComb.
The two hopeful Olympic sailors are putting together a website, www.rollermccombsailing.com, as well as brochures and packets detailing their needs and expenses.
“People can help with so many things,” said Roller. “As basic as if someone knows of housing anywhere we’re going to be or if you have a coach boat we could use, or if you have frequent flier miles to donate.”
Supporters can help Roller and McComb’s campaign through St. John Kids and the Sea, for tax deductible donations, or directly to the ladies. For more information email Roller and McComb at [email protected] And keep an eye out for their website, set to launch soon at www.rollermccombsailing.com.
Good luck Mimi and Kayla!