News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, August 23, 2012
MMA sailing coach heads to Paralympic Games

Tom Brown, Paralympic medal-winning sailor and MMA sailing coach

“It’s not just the guys on the boats,” said Tom Brown, Paralympic medal-winning sailor and MMA sailing coach. “It’s the family and support.” From left, Sheppherd, Ava, Penolope, Kelly and Molly Brown, with Tom Brown standing behind, at the community send-off at Waterfront Wednesday on August 15.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

Tom Brown, Paralympic medalist, Olympic-ranked sailor and winning coach for the Maine Maritime Academy sailing team, left on Monday, August 20, to represent the U.S.A. in the 2012 Paralympic Games.

“It’s going to be tough,” Brown said at a town send-off on August 15.

Brown is one of a three-member crew racing a Sonar class 23-foot boat in Weymouth, on the southern coast of England through September 6.

“The conditions are crazy over there,” he said. “We’re going against 14 other countries. There’s not a slouch in the bunch.”

Brown said he’s hoping to bring home a gold medal to go with his 2000 bronze and 2004 silver medals.

“I hated sailing. It was miserable. I didn’t really take on the racing part of it until after I came back from two years of chemo,” he said in a recent phone interview.

Brown lost his right leg to a battle with cancer when he was 10, and gained a love of sailing when he agreed to crew for Mercury races in Northeast Harbor.

“After that I was completely hooked,” Brown said. “It was the competition, the mind game, the whole package.”

By 2000, at 40 years old, Brown was an Olympic class sailor, part of a three-person crew that qualified to race a keelboat against seven other teams for the single berth to compete in Sydney. His team came in fifth overall, but Brown already had another goal in mind—he already had qualified for the Paralympics in the 2.4 meter class, which takes a one-man crew.

As a U.S. match racer with a carbon leg, Brown said he was approached by a Paralympic Games representative and “stopped in St. Pete, on the way for fleet racing trials, for the [2000] Paralympic trials.”

It was Brown’s first time in a 2.4 meter boat, and he won seven of the eight qualifying races.

He also brought home the bronze medal in the Paralympic Games, and in 2004, notched the silver.

Brown has shared his sailing wisdom with the MMA sailing team, since taking on the coaching helm in late 2007.

“Prior to that, we always had a good sailing team,” said Captain Tim Leach, Director of Career Services. “We were looking to have a great team.”

Brown took the MMA Mariners to a first-place win in his first race as coach at the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup, an intercollegiate big boat regatta, in early 2008. He raised money for the team to compete in Los Angeles in 2008 and 2009 from his Olympic and Paralympic campaign donor.

The Mariners repeated their win in 2009, and now, Brown said, MMA foots the bill.

Brown also led the Mariners to a Kennedy Cup trophy in 2010, qualifying them to compete in the college sailing world championships in France in 2011.

One of Brown’s goals for MMA is to be the first college to race the Navy’s McMillan Intercollegiate Regatta cup, an offshore race in a 44-foot boat, with an all-female team.

Of the MMA women sailors, Brown said, “I think they can certainly compete on that level. And I’d like to see MMA win that championship.”

Brown moved to Castine with his wife and four children when he began coaching for MMA. He doesn’t see himself leaving anytime soon.