Sailing: A new challenge for friends

Back in the day, a little more than a decade ago, Charlie Buckingham could be found at the Newport Yacht Club. It was like a second home, more of a playground actually.

He was among several aspiring sailors back then. He could be described as "aspiring," yet he was just a kid, just having fun. He met others like him who became his friends. They all played together and other times they all learned together about the valuable character traits that can come from sailing.

Buckingham was back at the NHYC Wednesday night, back with his friends, including Peter Kinney and Brooks Clark. They were there for a different reason, not to learn but to teach.

Buckingham and his friends have different roles with the USA45 Racing team that will compete in the inaugural Red Bull Youth America's Cup Sept. 1-4 on San Francisco Bay. They were there to talk about the team, the event and answer questions, as well as ask for financial support.

Many who attended had seen these kids grow into men. There were others Wednesday who were kids, or sometimes who can be described as, "aspiring sailors."

Someone asked what it takes to become an elite sailor, or one like Buckingham who is on an Olympic campaign, aiming to reach the 2016 Olympics.

"It was all about having fun for me," Buckingham answered. "If you enjoy it, you'll eventually want to work at it to take it to the next level. But just make sure you have fun now, enjoy these days of being a junior sailor. I miss it because those days were fun."

Now Buckingham works. His world is all about reaching the 2016 Olympics. He calls the Red Bull Youth America's Cup, a great complement to what he's trying to accomplish.

Buckingham, 24, a two-time College Sailor of the Year while at Georgetown, is aiming for the Olympics in the Laser class.

He'll be the skipper for Team USA45 in an entirely different boat, a catamaran that will have six crew members.

The Laser is a singlehanded boat. Buckingham appears to have embraced the challenge.

"It's just a really good opportunity to get involved with the America's Cup," said Buckingham, who was also a decorated sailor while at Newport Harbor High. "The Olympic games and the America's Cup are the pinnacles of sailing in terms of competition. I already have my path to try to make the Olympics and this is an opportunity to get involved with the America's Cup. And if I like it maybe I get involved more. Just to be able to compete in sailing at a really high level was really compelling to me."

The Red Bull Youth America's Cup was created for young sailors vying to ever reach the America's Cup, said Charlie Ogletree, the Team USA45 coach.

Ogletree knows winning the first Youth America's Cup is important and would be meaningful, especially since the competition will be great.

In addition to Team USA45, there will be another U.S. team, which will be skippered by Michael Menninger, who is also out of NHYC.

Some of the best young sailors from across the world will be in the Youth America's Cup. The teams include Australia, France, Germany, two New Zealand teams, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland.

Having Buckingham as the skipper was crucial for going up against some of the best of the best, Ogletree said.

"He's focused," Ogletree said of Buckingham. "He's doing an Olympic campaign. He's got incredible drive. He's motivated. His heart is in the right spot."

Ogletree has been leading an intense training regimen for the Team USA45 members, including Buckingham and Kinney.

Ogletree challenges them with various methods. As an example, he'll have them exert extreme energy and as they are gasping for air, he'll tells them to piece together a puzzle or solve a Rubik's cube. It's to help the sailors continue to use their strategy while they are working hard.

"It's pretty intense," Ogletree said of the training in San Francisco. "Sometimes they have a hard-core weightlifting program. Then we have a finisher, 15 minutes of high aerobic, running, climbing rope, throwing medicine balls, push-ups and pull-ups without any rest. That simulates what the end of the race is like."

Buckingham knew the training and competition would be demanding. That's why he recruited Kinney to compete with the team.

Kinney, 22, jumped on the opportunity. Before playing football at Newport Harbor High, Kinney had been a sailor with Buckingham. Kinney also went on to a solid football career as an offensive lineman at the University of Redlands, where he recently earned his business administration degree.

Buckingham knew Kinney could provide muscle. Kinney is also quite the character and also provides some comic relief at times.

He's been happy to be a part of the team.

"It was perfect timing," Kinney said of being recruited to join the team. "It was at the end of my college football career and graduating.

"It was a good excuse to not get a job right away," he joked. "But the fact that I could train for another sport. I could move up to San Francisco. It was an opportunity I couldn't really pass up."

Brooks, who sailed at Newport Harbor High and College of Charleston, has a unique role, mainly away from the training and the water. Brooks is more involved with social media and publicity for the team.

He put together a video about the team and he also maintains the team's website, as well as its Facebook page and Twitter handle.

Clark also helped put together the event Wednesday night at NHYC.

"It's just cool to be home and at our home club," Clark said. "It's really great to see all the people here and to see all the support is cool."

Buckingham and Kinney were also excited to see the support. They're also excited to compete. The three-day competition features two races each day on AC45 boats that have been known to reach in excess of 20 knots.

"We're honored to represent our nation and our yacht club," Buckingham told the group at NHYC. "We're excited for the challenge ahead."

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