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This sailor will be celebrating at her fifth Gay Games

Heather Stewart has many reasons to look forward to the Gay Games in Paris.

Heather Stewart and crew.

Paris 2018 - Gay Games 10 will take place in Paris, France, Aug. 4-12, 2018. Registration is now open for athletes in over 30 different sports.

By Heather Stewart

“My Year of 5s.” That’s what I’m calling 2018. I’ve got big plans and celebrations for next year that will all start with my attendance and participation in the Gay Games 10 in Paris.

There are a number of references to five in my life next year. In August 2018, I will be turning 55 years old…there are a couple of fives right there! This is the Gay Games 10, which is a multiple of five, and this will be my fifth Games competing in sailing.

I am one of the original members of the San Francisco Sailing Team (SFST) who traveled to Sydney in 2002. Founded by Katharine Holland and Kip Darcy, we started organizing in 2000 to be ready to participate in the inaugural hosting of sailing as a sport in the Gay Games.

We were so excited — and good at organizing — there were 30 of us from San Francisco who registered as soon as registration was open, already having created our 10 teams. I am now one of only three sailors from the Bay Area to have competed in each of the Games since then. Each of my experiences competing in sailing was uniquely different and challenging, and I expect Paris to be nothing less.

The Paris sailing teams are made up of five crew — another five! I’m excited, too, that this will be my first opportunity to actually be part of a team with those other two original San Francisco sailors, Jan and Dorothea Crosbie-Taylor. In years past, I’ve always competed against them.

I have competed in both all-women teams as well as co-ed teams, both as skipper and crew. Though I registered the team for Paris, Jan is our skipper. Dorothea and I will be joined by both returning crew Christy Leffall and our newest Gay Games crew member, Carol Sanders.

We are all experienced sailors and racers with a depth and breadth of different experiences. Jan is a sailing instructor for many years as well as co-owning and competing on their Melges 24 “Posse.” Carol has competed in the 2015 Pacific Cup race from San Francisco to Hawaii.

Heather Stewart can’t wait for her fifth Gay Games.

My preparing for and participation in that first Gay Games regatta literally changed my life. Though growing up in the Long Beach, Calif., area and not far from the Pacific Ocean, I grew up favoring camping in the mountains. I had a standing opportunity and invitation to join a Girl Scout Mariner/Sea Scout troop, but I never accepted that invitation.

After graduating from college my sailing experience started as a summer camp director on Catalina Island in Southern California. I learned just enough to assist with some of the sailing instruction as was needed.

I came out later at age 30, which coincidentally coincided with my move to the Bay Area. How convenient! I spent time building a life up here, learning about my new “lifestyle” and community and further growing into myself in a way I never had had the opportunity or time.

It took six years to finally decide I really wanted to get out on a boat, so I looked for an LGBT opportunity. I was thrilled that SFST started at the same time.

That was when I really learned how to sail and race. I practiced and trained for two years to compete in Sydney.

My first seven years of sailing focused on racing around buoys as crew. In 2007 I obtained my US Sailing Bareboat Cruising certification, so I can charter boats as the skipper, invite friends, and go for the far less stressful sport of social sailing on our beautiful San Francisco Bay and in other warmer climes, such as the British Virgin Islands.

The life change came through learning the sport, meeting great friends, traveling around the world to participate in the Gay Games, and developing a passion for a sport that I can share with others in a beautiful setting. Life changing. And to think I could have started sailing all those years ago. I guess sometimes things work out as they should.

Though the SFST was started as a racing team focusing on the Gay Games, I picked up the coordination of the team over 10 years ago with the personal goal of the “team” growing as a social sailing club. I had hopes of continuing to grow the LGBT sailing community. As such, I was honored and excited to be invited to participate as the Sailing Sport Coordinator in San Francisco’s recent – unfortunately unsuccessful – bid to host the 2022 Games…sailing in San Francisco? Well, duh…of course!! Though we may not have the Games here, I will continue to look for opportunities – and invite others to join me! – to bring more SF Bay Area LGBT sailors – and those who might like to be – out into the sunshine and onto the water to sail together.

As for some of those other 5s in my celebration, I’m planning to follow up the Games with additional travels around parts of Europe I’ve not yet visited, the goal being 5 cities in 5 weeks…La Havre, Paris, Barcelona, San Sebastian, and Porto…gotta be by the water. It’s destined to be a fantastic “Year of 5s”!

You can find the SF Sailing Team on Facebook or at their Web site.

Paris 2018 - Gay Games 10 will take place in Paris, France, Aug. 4-12, 2018. Registration is now open for athletes in over 30 different sports. Registration fees increase on Jan. 1, 2018.