"I'm not sure whether I liked sailing or didn't like sailing when I was even younger, it was something I did in the summer," Jobson recalled recently. "I got a new dinghy and I was coming in and I remember cleaning my boat out and this family comes along and starts asking me questions. They had never sailed before, and I was explaining how the boat works."
"They later said, 'You were the reason we got into sailing,' " Jobson said. "That moment was when I thought, 'I'm going to do this more and try to get more people involved in sailing.' Here I am now 61 years old and doing the same thing I did when I was 11. That was the moment I realized the impact one can have on people to participate in the sport."
Sailing has taken Jobson far from his roots and on an around-the-world journey that has included competing (and winning) on sailing's biggest stage — the America's Cup, where Jobson served as Ted Turner's lead tactician on the Courageous in 1977.
A week from tonight, in San Diego, Jobson will be part of the first class of 15 inductees into the National Sailing Hall of Fame.
Currently in the second year of a three-year term as president of U.S. Sailing, Jobson is still as passionate about his sport as he was during his years as one of the world's most accomplished sailors. But his perspective has certainly changed in recent years after being diagnosed with an incurable form of lymphoma in 2003.
After a two-year battle that included a stem-cell transplant, Jobson's cancer is in remission but not cured.
It has given Jobson good reason to continue his involvement in the Leukemia Cup Regatta, an event Jobson helped start in 1993 in Annapolis. According to Marty Siederer, director of campaign development for the Leukemia Cup, Jobson's project has helped raise nearly $39 million.
"One of the things Gary has said ever since he went through treatment is that you should always find an opportunity to give to a cause because one day you might be a cause," Siederer said. "His passion for helping us has always been there, but it's obviously taken an extra urgency with the personal situation he had. Also, he's heard from so many more sailors and volunteers who have been [cancer] survivors or are undergoing stem-cell transplant and ask him what he can tell them."
Janice Jobson, who has known her husband since he was 21, said of her husband's battle with cancer: "He is very fortunate in that he got very good care at a point where the care could really make a difference. He sort of presents that model of possibility that you can recover from being very, very ill and lead a very productive life despite the fact that you're not cured. From that point, it is pretty remarkable."
A former oncology nurse, Janice Jobson has not only watched her husband help raise millions of dollars for cancer research but has also witnessed firsthand as he raised the spirits of cancer patients, including one of her close friends.
"We had a nurse who was a friend of mine getting a stem-cell transplant for a very similar form of cancer, and she was very frightened, and he just called her. He didn't pull any punches with her, he told her it would be really tough, but he said, 'You can get through it,' " Janice Jobson recalled. "In those big ways that people hear about, that's one aspect, but I've seen some of those little things that are going to make a tremendous difference to an individual person."
The approach he took with his wife's friend was reminiscent of how he attacked the disease that was attacking him.
"My attitude at the time was, I've got it and I'm going to figure out how to get rid of it," Jobson said. "I never did dwell on why it was me, I was just one statistic out of millions that get it. But during that two-year battle, I resolved a few things. I would never sweat the small stuff — if someone takes a parking place in front of you, oh well, just go on to the next one. And more importantly, I thought if I ever got out of this jam, I would spend more time serving our sport and try to help people with the disease themselves. … I'm more in a do-gooder mode than a career mode."
Said Siederer: "I guess the business term [to describe Jobson] is a rainmaker — he has a real knack for identifying a contact who might be a good fit for a particular cause. While he might be doing something for Jobson Sailing or in a spokesman role for one of his activities, he always finds a way to contribute to the Leukemia Cup or some other aspect of the sport."
Not that Jobson's competitive juices don't start flowing once he gets out on the water for a race, but as he readily acknowledged: "Let's face it, when you're 61, you're not as sharp as you were when you were 32. But I'm pretty competitive. I try hard and work hard at it. But if I don't do well in a regatta, I don't get upset about it. I chalk it up that it was a great day on the water and we'll do better the next time. Years ago I was probably upset for weeks after having a bad regatta."
It has allowed him to deal with the challenges that come with reenergizing a sport that lost a good chunk of its fan base and participants over the past three decades.
Asked about his successes — and failures — as the head of the sport's governing body, Jobson is honest.