Sailing legend Spithill learns meaning of sacrifice from service personnel

America’s Cup winning skipper James “Jimmy” Spithill admits he’s been guilty of using the term ‘sacrifice’ to describe his commitment to sailing. But it’s a mistake the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 Ambassador almost certainly won’t make again, after learning more about the sacrifices made every day by servicemen and women and their families.

“You often hear athletes – and I’ve done it myself – use that word to talk about their sporting careers,” said Spithill.

“But, I can tell you, it really gets put into perspective when you meet some of these awesome servicemen and women and you realise how fortunate we are.

“When you look at what they and their families have to sacrifice, you can’t even compare us. If it wasn’t for people out there doing that sort of work, none of us would get the opportunity to go and do, for instance, what I do for a living. And, let’s face it, I think they’re totally under-recognised and never compensated enough, when you really look at the sacrifices they make.”

Respect for service personnel was a driving force in Spithill’s desire to be associated with the Invictus Games. The Australian yachting superstar will be a keen spectator on Sydney Harbour for the sailing competition, which will make its Invictus Games debut at Farm Cove near the Sydney Opera House on Sunday 21 October. He has also pledged his support to the teams as they prepare.

“I’ll be there, without a doubt. I’m coming down to offer any help to the teams with training or whatever they need. I’m excited about it,” he said.

“I’d love to see the Aussies do well. But the way I see my role is to really just get out there and try to help any of the teams get up to speed. And then it’s about looking forward to a great event.”

Sailing is one of 13 sports to be contested at Invictus Games Sydney 2018 from 20-27 October.

“I’m excited to see some of the other sports as well. I’ve never been to an Invictus Games before but, speaking to people who have, they say it’s one of the most inspiring events you can go to. It’s really the highlight for me this year.”

Spithill says he has long held an interest in the military. As a youngster he read books about the ANZACs and would ponder “how people would lie about their age just to go and serve their country and then how it was really tough most of the time when they came home and tried to get on with life.

“It just didn’t sit well with me,” he said. “It just didn’t seem right.

“Fast forward to more recent times, through being in the America’s Cup I was fortunate to meet some US guys who have served and became mates with a few of them. It just became a strong feeling in me. Then the opportunity popped up to be an Ambassador and I jumped at it. I wanted to get behind the cause and do anything I could to help.”

Spithill’s brother, Tom, has been helping coach Invictus Games Sydney 2018 sailing competitors at Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club in Sydney and after meeting some of the competitors Jimmy realised the positive impact the sport can have on the rehabilitation of service personnel.

“For a lot of us who sail, we know how great a sport it is,” he said.

“The thing I love about it is, once you leave the dock or the shore, your kind of free of all the baggage and everything that comes with everyday life, good and bad. You’re out there and you’re focused.

“The other great thing is teamwork. For most of these people, they know how important it is to work as a team, to have good people surrounding you. In sailing it’s always different every time you’re out on the water, so you’ve got to be able to adapt. Again, that’s a skill set servicemen and women have. You can plan and prepare, but the fact is that things change and become unpredictable.

“Also, the fact they’re out competing with other servicemen and women, they all share a common bond, mateship and teamwork. I really think sailing brings so many of those qualities together.

“It’s going to be a pretty special event for those reasons, but also because you don’t get a better stadium than Sydney Harbour. The sailors are going to be spoiled. All the other sports will be played in some pretty cool stadiums, but sailing’s going to take the trophy there.”

The sailing and road cycling events will be held on Sunday 21 October, the day after the Opening Ceremony. Spectating for these events is free, with plenty of wonderful vantage points in the Royal Botanic Garden around Farm Cove.

Spithill is one of 10 amazing ambassadors for Invictus Games Sydney 2018.