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Q&A with Vanessa Lahrkamp: 2024 Quantum Women's Collegiate Sailor of the Year

The Quantum Women's Collegiate Sailor of the Year Award is presented annually to a sailor who has excelled in district and national championships. Quantum aims to recognize outstanding performance in women's sailing and promote the sport's growth in college and beyond. This year, the selection committee has chosen Vanessa Lahrkamp, a Stanford University Cardinal, who, along with her team, won the ICSA Women's Team Race National Championship, securing the school's fourth title. Coming off the team's win, we caught up with Vanessa for a quick Q&A on the dock and followed up with a more formal interview. 

Dave Curtis/HDFA Photography

Quantum: Congratulations on your Team Race Championship title, and the fourth for Stanford! What's it like to be a part of the Cardinal legacy?

Vanessa: Ever since I was 10 years old, attending Stanford has been my dream. That dream came true when I was recruited and welcomed to the Stanford Sailing Team in Fall 2022. The last two years have shown how fun and exciting college sailing is and how it takes teamwork and commitment from everyone involved to make a successful program. For this reason, I am so grateful to receive this award, as it is a testament to the team's effort to make a successful sailing program. This award means the world to me, and I could not have done it without my teammates and coaches. The Stanford Sailing Team is my family, and I’m so glad I can be part of the team's growth and success.

Q: You’re also following in the footsteps of your sister [Michelle], who won this award in 2020! Tell us a little about you and your sister, on and off the water.

VL: My sister has been my role model since I was young. She is smart, a fantastic sailor, and a great leader. I am so happy to call her not only my older sister but also my best friend. Coming to Stanford, she took me under her wing, gave me sailing tips and tricks, and was my home away from home. These past two years, we have become as close as ever. We are constantly battling it out on the water, doing wholesome weekly sister dates studying, getting boba, or grabbing a meal. She always brings out the best in me and provides great sailing and life advice. I am going to miss her a lot next year.

Q: You’re in the Class of 2026, so you’ve got a few more college sailing seasons to go! Where do you hope to go from here?

VL: Honestly, I have had to think about this question since I have achieved everything I could have dreamed of. Due to our program discontinuation and reinstatement, we do not have a complete senior class next year. This requires my class of incoming juniors to step up to the plate as leaders and help the freshmen transition into Stanford student-athlete life. With the two years I have left, I want to become a leader to the incoming freshmen. I want to continue to set strong roots for the team not only for the two years that I have left but for many years to come. I hope to be able to drive competition at practice, give the freshmen tricks and tips like the seniors did for me, and pursue my academic, athletic, and career goals. 

Q: Tell us how you started sailing, where, and with whom? When did you know that you were going to really dedicate yourself to the sport?

VL: I started sailing at my hometown yacht club, American Yacht Club, in Rye, NY, during summer camp. My sister is three years older than me, so I always tagged along while she competed in the Opti white fleet. Eventually, my mom signed me up for the Green Fleet, and my journey to competitive sailing started. From there, my sister and I started to love the sport and joined Sail Strong and LISOT travel teams. I really dedicated myself to sailing when I was 11 after competing at my first international Opti event in Holland. Competing internationally and meeting amazing people worldwide was something that was truly special and sold me to pursue sailing at a very high level. After Optis, I sailed i-420s, requiring me to come to Stanford to continue doing the sport I love.

Q: College sailing is a team-oriented sport. What do you consider to be the most important characteristics of a good teammate? 

VL: A good teammate is reliable and honest on and off the water. You can always count on them to put their best foot forward at every practice, push those around them to do their best, and be friends away from practice and sailing. They will always tell you the truth, even if it isn't what you want to hear. They will call you out when you mess up — but constructively, making you a better sailor and teammate.

Q: Do you have any favorite memories or races from your time at Stanford so far?

VL: A core Stanford memory will definitely be my freshman year open national championship, not only because we had one but also because that was the first time in history that an all-women team had won the championship. I remember Shawn, my assistant coach, telling my senior crew, Abby Tindall, and me that we had won when we sailed by to debrief about our last race. I asked if he was serious since I thought he was messing with me. When I finally realized that we had won, I was overcome with emotion since it was an incredible moment for Stanford and for all women in college sailing. We had just made history! And my sister winning A division was just the cherry on top because I was such a proud sister and was so unbelievably happy for her.

Q: What advice would you give younger, particularly young female sailors?

VL: The one piece of advice I have is to always to keep pushing yourself and never give up. It is easy to give up when you are in the back of the fleet, but those are the races that make or break your regatta, and I have to say that making a comeback in a race is my absolute favorite thing in the world since it shows how much the sport really means to you. Every point counts!

The Lahrkamps are no strangers to this accolade - Vanessa’s older sister, who also sails for Stanford, was selected in 2020. We caught up with Michelle to ask her thoughts on her sister's selection: 

"Having Vanessa at Stanford and as my teammate for the last two years was a gift that keeps giving," says Michelle. "She’s my built-in best friend and training partner, inspiring me to improve daily. This year, when Vanessa won [2024 Quantum Women's College Sailor of the Year], it was the best possible retirement gift as it was the ultimate win for an older sister. It's rare to have your younger sister share your dreams with you, accomplish them with you, and become a leader and star after you. I'm so lucky we have so many life and college sailing experiences together, and I'm excited for our next life journey together beyond college sailing."

Vanessa joins the ranks of impressive female college sailors who have won the award since it was created in 2003. Congratulations, Vanessa! Our team at Quantum looks forward to seeing what's next on the horizon for you as you continue your collegiate career and beyond.

 

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The Discussion

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