Edit ModuleShow Tags

Two Local Sailors Get over a Crash in Order to Compete in Rio

Coronado's Paris Henken and her partner, Helena Scutt, set sail toward the Olympics


Published:

Henken and Scutt competing in Trofeo Princesa Sofia, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, 2015. | Photo: Will Ricketson

Helena Scutt’s memory is foggy about that September day in 2013. She knows what happened. During a race at the 49erFX World Championships in Marseilles, France, both Scutt and teammate Paris Henken were trapezing, sailing speak for hanging over the edge of the vessel by wires, which gives them more leverage and is part of the thrill. As they rounded a turn, another boat was coming straight at them, each boat traveling about 15 miles per hour. The boats themselves never touched, leaving Scutt to suffer the full force of the impact and send both women flying.

“Paris pulled me out of the water,” 23-year-old Scutt recalls. “I don’t remember how we got there. They got me back to the dock and I started going through shock. They got me to the hospital, which was rough, not speaking the language. I broke two ribs, lacerated my left kidney, and also broke the left transverse process of my second lumbar vertebra. Pretty high impact, obviously.”

Henken felt awful, since it’s her job to steer the boat. “She never blamed me,” she says. Still, it was a setback that threatened the duo’s bid for the 2016 Olympics. Luckily, Scutt received news that she wouldn’t require surgery, and her wounds would heal on their own.

“We still had three years,” explains Henken, now 20, who lives and trains in Coronado with her two brothers, who are also competitive sailors. “It wasn’t a setback because of her injuries. It was a setback on whether she wanted to keep going. She’s very motivated and pushes herself a lot.”

Helena Scutt and Paris Henken, 49erFX, US Sailing Team Sperry. | Photo: US Sailing Team

“I never thought it was Paris’s fault,” Henken says. “It’s just part of our sport. We sail fast boats. It’s the nature of racing. When similar situations happen, I still get nervous. The good thing is that Paris doesn’t show any apprehension. I resented that at first, like, ‘Of course you don’t, because it didn’t happen to you!’ But I’ve realized that it’s good. We can’t have a cowardly mentality. It brought us closer together as a team.”

Clearly. The duo has been the top boat for the women’s team over the past two years, winning a bronze medal at the 2015 Pan American Games and qualifying for the Olympics in February. After having raised over $100,000 on their own to finance their road to the games, the two now spend weeks at a time training in Rio.

Their particular sport is pretty thrilling to watch, a cross between sailing and Cirque du Soleil. The two-person 49erFX class is one of the fastest racing skiffs in the world. Competitors are suspended by trapeze wires off the side of the boat, controlling the sail and boat with their core muscles. The boats are easily tipped, which presents a significant challenge in Rio’s Guanabara Bay, where the sailing events will be held.

“Rio’s quite complicated because it has lots of currents,” says Henken. “Coronado is usually the same every day, same wind speed, regular sea breeze. It changes the way you think about racing.”

There have also been numerous reports of raw sewage polluting the water in Guanabara Bay. Pundits have even suggested the sailing events be moved to another location. That’s especially concerning when it comes to the 49erFX, which is one of the hardest boats to keep from capsizing.

Neither Henken nor Scutt sound too concerned. They’re in the Olympics, after all. “There’s been talk that people should pull out,” says Henken, “But if we pulled out, someone else would just take our place. We just wash our gear off really well and clean our hands really well before eating.”  

So both women have a few things to remember in Rio—and some things they’d like to forget. What’ll get them through is the same thing that’s made them one of the world’s top teams.

“We have a lot of fun together,” says Scutt. “I remember the first weekend we sailed together. We were laughing. This week is our second to last training for our first Olympics. A lot of people might get nervous or tense. But we’re still out there, grateful and laughing. That’s what’s enabled us to get through the tough times. We’re super lucky.”

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

San Diego's Best Restaurants 2019

Nearly 7,500 of our hungriest readers voted in our annual poll—and the results are served

Trail of the Month: Secret Stairs, La Mesa

How get a great glute workout on this urban trail

Stunning San Diego Landscapes To Inspire Your Green Space

Consider it your no excuses guide to sprucing up your outside (and inside)
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Vote Now for San Diego's Best Restaurants 2019
    From pho to fries, you can choose San Diego's best eats and drinks in 99 categories
  2. First Look: Il Dandy
    Michelin-starred Italian chefs open a stunner in Bankers Hill
  3. Restaurants Are Dying; Here’s the Solution
    It’s simple math, but the state of California refuses to allow it
  4. 21 Ultimate Road Trip Itineraries from San Diego
    These getaways will take you through California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Mexico
  5. Best of North County 2019
    Our annual roundup of what's up-and-coming and full-on buzzy above the 56
  6. San Diego Homebuyer’s Guide 2019
    It's possible to find an affordable home in these six up-and-coming enclaves
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions

Enter San Diego’s Cutest Pet Contest

Your furry family member could win a pet prize package and be featured in San Diego Magazine

Puesto's Next Top Taco

Submit your best taco recipe for the chance to win a grand prize
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Sponsored

Plan a San Diego Staycation with Hilton

Avoid the airport and enjoy local activities from kayaking to visiting Balboa Park

Athena’s Pinnacle Awards Showcases Leaders in Diversity and Inclusion

Here are the winners from the event on May 7
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags