ST. PETERSBURG — Coming off a medal-winning performance last summer in Weymouth, England, Jen French is looking at this weekend's NOOD Regatta off St. Petersburg as a chance to blow off a little steam.
"This is going to be a lot of fun," said French, who has abandoned the double-handed SKUD 18 to race with friends in the four-person Sonar. "We are getting the band back together for this one."
While the U.S. sailing team didn't win any medals at the 2012 London Olympics, St. Petersburg sailors French, a quadriplegic, and JP Creignou, who is blind, brought home a silver from the Paralympic Games held a few weeks later at the same venue.
"The pressure was intense," said French, 41, of St. Petersburg. "I really learned a lot about myself … how to clear my head and focus.
"The NOOD is also very competitive," she added. "We want to win, but it will also be a great chance to just get out and sail with some friends."
Joining French will be Geoff Sherman, 33, Christy Day, 40, and Ralf Steitz, 50, in the Sonar class, which also will be holding its Midwinter Regatta during the three days of the National Offshore One-Design Regatta.
The sailboat races, held off the Pier in downtown St. Petersburg, are expected to attract more than 1,000 sailors from across the United States and abroad. The regatta series, part of a multicity tour, comes just a few weeks after Key West's race week, which, next to the America's Cup, sees the most hotly contested battles in the sport.
The term one-design is used to describe boats with identical measurements and specifications, the same style of racing that French and teammate Creignou participated in at the Paralympic Games.
But unlike the Paralympics, where French competed against other sailors with disabilities, she will be racing with the able-bodied fleet.
"Once I am in the boat, nobody knows that I use a wheelchair," said French, who was injured in a snowboard accident 15 years ago. "It is great to be treated like just another sailor."
In addition to the Sonar, the NOOD usually features at least 10 other classes. The overall winner of the event is picked on both fewest number of points accumulated (in sailing, the lower the number, the higher the rank) and the overall competitiveness of the class.
The winner of the St. Petersburg event, now in its 26th year and the opener of a six-city tour, will get a chance to travel to the British Virgin Islands to compete in the NOOD Championship Regatta.
St. Petersburg's Todd Fedyszyn, the coach of the local yacht club's junior sailing team, won both the 2011 event and the season finale.
In addition to the on-water sailing, U.S. Olympic team members and Clearwater siblings Paige and Zach Railey will conduct an onshore sailing clinic for junior sailors at the St. Pete Yacht Club immediately after today's racing.