Rice junior Carson Crain to participate in Olympic windsurfing trials

One of Rice University’s students is hoping to sail his way to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as he prepares for his final Olympic trials event at the end of this month.

Carson Crain, a Hanszen College junior, sport management/sport medicine major and Houston native, is currently on a two-year leave from Rice to focus on his dream of attending the Olympics Games as a representative of the U.S. sailing team. Crain’s specific category, the RS:X class of windsurfing, is one of 10 sailing events in the Olympics.

Carson Crain (Photo credit: U.S. Sailing Team/Will Ricketson)

Carson Crain (Photo credit: U.S. Sailing Team/Will Ricketson)

The final Olympic windsurfing trials event will take place at the Princess Sofia Regatta March 28-April 2 in Palma, Spain. The first event took place at the Sailing World Cup in Miami in late January. To qualify for the Olympics, Crain must be the top-scoring American after his scores from the two events are combined. A total of 36 countries will compete in windsurfing at the 2016 Olympics, and only one representative is chosen from each country.

Crain said that it was his naturally competitive spirit that got him interested in sports – and sailing in particular. Growing up, he played soccer, baseball and basketball, and he joined a rowing class at the age of 6 during his family’s annual summer trip to Northeast Harbor, Maine. His older brother joined a sailing class, and once Crain was old enough, he took up sailing as well.

But that wasn’t enough for Crain. “I wanted to race,” he said.

He began sailing competitively in a one-person Optimist boat, which Crain said is good for youth sailing, easy to learn and pretty inexpensive.

His involvement moved from regional youth races in Maine and in Texas to national and international events. His first international event was in the Netherlands.

“From there, things just got more and more competitive,” he said.

Crain said he began dreaming of representing the U.S. at the Olympics in 2005, when he met three-time Olympic medalist Paul Foerster at an Optimist regatta.

“(Foerster) let me hold his gold medal, and that was the moment when I knew I wanted to be an Olympic sailor,” Crain said.

Learning to sail the Optimist was a lot of fun, Crain said, and it taught him a lot about the rules of sailing. It also helped him meet friends around the world. Crain won numerous regional races and some national races sailing the Optimist, and he completed his final event – a national team-racing event in New York – in 2008.

At the age of 15, Crain transitioned to the Laser, a larger, more streamlined boat with a bigger sail that is much faster than the Optimist. He started sailing on the Radial Laser, which is designed for youth and women’s single-handed classes, and as he grew he progressed to the Laser Standard and competed in domestic and international events.

“It has a bigger mast and a larger sail than the Radial Laser,” Crain said. “In order to sail it, you have to be physically bigger.”

In 2011 Crain realized that his body (5 feet, 10 inches tall and 160 pounds) wasn’t the ideal size for the Laser, which is best-suited for male sailors who are about 6 feet, 2 inches tall and 185 pounds. He began looking at different Olympic sailing classes to choose a new category on which to focus his training. He ultimately picked windsurfing, the only other sailing option that was a single-handed boat.

“It was the one of greatest interest to me,” he said.

Carson Crain (Photo credit: U.S. Sailing Team/Will Ricketson)

Carson Crain (Photo credit: U.S. Sailing Team/Will Ricketson)

Windsurfing has been part of the Olympics since 1984, but in May 2012 it was temporarily voted out of the 2016 Olympics. The decision was reversed after six months. Crain had continued his windsurfing training during this time because he planned to compete in the 2015 Pan American Games and wanted to see if the decision would be overturned.

“It was a very stressful time,” Crain said of the weeks before the decision was reversed. “I’d been putting in all my time to try and figure (windsurfing) out, and the first six months is especially difficult.”

Before leaving Rice to train full-time, Crain would typically travel to Galveston Bay two to four times per week and do more intense blocks of training when his coach was in town. In addition, he had regular sessions with his physical trainer. Crain said that his professors were very accommodating as he was balancing training with schoolwork and allowed him to take exams early or online if he was out of town.

“I was very up-front with them about my schedule and communicated with them regularly,” Crain said. “I was able to schedule classes in a way that I could continue training at a very high rate.”

Crain said that Tom Stallings, a professor in the practice of sport management, was especially attentive in helping him manage his class schedule and stay on top of his coursework. Stallings also found ways to incorporate Crain’s sailing career into his class projects.

“For one of my assignments, I gave a presentation about a 2013 America’s Cup commercial and how it was being marketed,” Crain said.

Stallings said that despite such a busy schedule, Crain also managed to find time for a job-shadowing experience in spring 2013 with Professional Sports Partners, which handles sports sponsorship information for various clients, including the Houston Rockets.

“Carson was mature enough to realize that he needed to focus and work really hard on sports, but when he wasn’t training he focused very diligently on his studies,” Stallings said. “His work in the classroom didn’t suffer at all. He was able to maintain a balance and did it exceptionally well.”

Crain left Rice in May 2014 to train full-time, something he calls a “team effort.” His training team includes windsurfing coach Kevin Stittle, who trains Crain on the sport itself; mental performance coach Colin Guthrie, who works with Stittle and Crain on setting goals and handling pressure situations; physical trainer Hayden Cowie, who has been working with Crain for the past seven years to create sailing-specific workouts to ensure his body is peaking at the ideal times; and nutritionist Roberta Anding, who helps Crain manage his diet, body composition and overall health. Anding is also a lecturer in the Department of Kinesiology at Rice.

Anding described Crain as a “typical Rice student – educated, hardworking and organized.” She said that Crain approached her about working with him on his nutrition goals while he was enrolled in her class.

“As with all athletes, we formulated a plan based on where he was at physically, the demands of his sport and where he needed to be,” she said. “We set goals to modify his body composition while keeping him properly fueled and hydrated.”

Anding said it was an honor to be a small part of his preparation for the Olympic trials.

“Carson is a very smart guy and really looks at all factors that impact every aspect of his performance,” she said. “He is just a delightful young man and would make a fabulous representative for the U.S. Olympic team.”

A typical training week for Crain includes five training days and two days off. Along with daily windsurfing sessions, his days include at least one cross-training activity other than sailing. Crain said that these activities vary based on his training location, but his favorites include stand-up paddle racing, road cycling, mountain biking and gym workouts. To fuel his workouts, Crain consumes approximately 4,000 calories on training days.

While Crain doesn’t have a specific training “home base,” he has several main training locations, including Miami, Long Beach, Calif., and Auckland, New Zealand. He also trains at event sites prior to competitions to acclimate to the specific locations and their characteristics. And he has participated in training camps in various locations with different training partners.

“Since I have not been enrolled in classes the past two years, I’ve had more flexibility with my training on the water,” Crain said. “My coach and I can pinpoint exactly where in the world we want to go to train, and we can train with the very best people.”

While training for the Olympic trials, Crain has been in New Zealand working with former Olympic windsurfer J.P. Tobin. Crain’s training has been focused around pressure racing scenarios, which could arise during the trials, and getting his body as physically fit as possible.

Crain said that while he is very self-driven, his family and friends have been extremely supportive throughout his Olympic campaign. He cites his former Optimist coach, the Olympic sailor Trevor Moore, as a major source of inspiration.

“(Trevor) was the guy I always went to with all my campaign questions,” Crain said. “He helped me understand how to properly run an Olympic campaign and taught me the importance of being fully committed to your campaign while ensuring you enjoy the entire journey. His passion for Olympic sailing was unparalleled, and that is why he has always been a huge inspiration for me and will continue to be in the future.”

Looking forward to the trials at the end of the month, Crain said that it’s pretty incredible to be so close to achieving something that he could only dream about as a kid.

“The last few years I have put everything else in my life on hold to pursue this opportunity, and I am so thankful for all the people who have supported me along the way,” Crain said. “Doing an Olympic campaign is about far more than going to the games or your overall result. It is about the places you go, the people you meet and how those life experiences impact you. This is what I will remember years later — not my final results, but the experiences and the friends I have made through this journey.”

Crain will return to Rice in fall 2016. After he graduates, he pictures himself working with other athletes to help them fulfill their goals of participating in future Olympic Games.

“I’ve always liked helping other athletes, whether it’s in the gym, talking nutrition or the mental-performance side of elite sports,” Crain said.

For more information about and videos and photos of Crain and his Olympic campaign, visit www.crainsailing.com. He is also on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/CarsonCrainOlympicCampaign), Twitter (https://twitter.com/crainsailing) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/crainsailing).

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.