By Mark Soltau, Stanford Athletics
STANFORD, Calif. -
You could hardly blame Helena Scutt for treading water, but she's not. In addition to working on a biomechanical engineering degree at Stanford, the junior from Seattle races for the sailing team and the U.S. team Sperry Top-Sider.
Most weekends are spent traveling across the country to compete in regattas.
"It's a good thing I can sleep on red-eyes," she said.
Actually, Scutt enjoys traveling. It provides a break from her normal school routine.
"I like packing my life into a bag and focusing on sailing for a bit," said Scutt.
Scutt was born in England and moved to Seattle when she was 2 when her father, Oliver, took a job with Boeing. The family was supposed to stay for two weeks, but his job was extended and he wound up starting his own company and never left.
Scutt excelled in soccer and played on three select teams, but finally burned out in junior high.
"My dad was right there and said, `Oh, you should give racing a try,' '' Scutt said.
Oliver sailed frequently in England and introduced his daughter to his passion through summer camps. After learning most of the basics, Scutt started sailing with the Seattle Yacht Club's youth racing team, where she was coached by Jan and Ben Glass.
"They really propelled my development," said Scutt.
She improved so quickly, Scutt was selected to the U.S. Youth Development program and was the only female in the 29er class. She has participated in four major championships during the past two years and has become a much sought-after crew member at Stanford.
"She's really a unique athlete," said Cardinal coach John Vandemoer. "She's team captain and is the community service coordinator for Cardinal Council (the student-athlete advisory committee). It's unusual to have such a strong leadership role for someone so young."
Scutt crewed five regattas for Stanford as a freshman, and was an All-Pacific Coast Collegiate Sailing Conference crew member last year. This year, she is crewing for highly-touted Cardinal freshman Antoine Screve
of Kentfield, Calif., and the duo won their division in the Navy Fall Regatta.
"She sails with all of our top sailors in all conditions," Vandemoer said. "She's incredibly strong from working out in the gym, but her real strength is her intelligence. She's got a high motor and drive for what she does. She's really blossomed and taken her game to the next level."
Scutt said there is nothing glamorous about college sailing.
"The only way to get better at the end of the day is to spend time on the water," she said. "Time in the gym counts, and you really have to study your rules and tactical situations. But whether it's raining or cold, windy and wavy, it's a huge time commitment."
During winter break, Scutt drove to Los Angeles to pick up a fellow sailor, and they drove five days across country to Miami hauling her 17-foot boat in a trailer for an upcoming competition. Asked how she would get the boat home, Scutt replied, "Hopefully someone from the U.S. team will be going west this month."
Asked to compare college sailing with the national team, Scutt said they are very different.
"College sailing is in slow boats and we do team racing and fleet racing, which is just lots of tactics," she said. "Skiff racing, which is what I do for U.S. Sailing, has that as well, but there's a greater potential for boat speed differences, so you really work on making your boat go as fast as it can."
In the latter, boats can reach speeds of nearly 25 mph. "We're so close to the water, it feels faster," said Scutt.
How does Scutt feel about the America's Cup coming to San Francisco this summer?
"These boats are incredible feats of engineering," she said. "They will change a lot of people's minds about sailing, just to challenge their mind a little bit. Picture a big boat going slow, drinking beer on the side. But these guys who race them are in absolute tip-top shape. There's no moment on your butt."
Admittedly, Scutt has little free time, but has no complaints. She enjoys riding her bike through campus and makes a point of appreciating places like the Oval, Quad and White Plaza.
"Some people would call it sacrifices," she said. "To me, if I gave up sailing and didn't have those days on the water going fast, that would be a big hole in me.
"I'm also lucky to be at Stanford. I love my major, I love what I'm studying. I'm around the most amazing faculty and teammates and friends. I wouldn't trade that for anything."