Clearwater’s Jonathan Rudich with his windsurfing board at the Clearwater Community Sailing Center.
CLEARWATER – By all accounts making it to the Olympic games is not an easy feat no matter what the discipline. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication and years of preparation. Jonathan Rudich, 17, of Clearwater has been doing all that and is determined to give an Olympic berth a shot in Windsurfing.
Rudich trains at the Clearwater Community Sailing Center. He is one of two members of the Sperry Top-Sider Windsurfing U.S. Sailing team in the RS:X class. To get there he had to compete in an International Sailing Federation World Cup event in Miami. It was there he won his spot on the U.S. team.
“I was one of the two top in a qualifying event last January and I made the team from that,” he said. “It means that I will get support from the sponsor, have access to physical therapists and other benefits.”
Just because he’s on the team doesn’t mean the work stops. In fact Rudich has to continue to qualify, and if he doesn’t, he loses his spot on the team.
“There is a qualifying event every year,” he said. “So if I want to continue to get the support I’m getting now I have to continue to qualify and there are two more years of that before the next summer games in Rio De Janiero in 2016.”
Even getting this far has been a dream for Rudich. Sailing is in his blood. Both his father and his grandfather were sailors. He fell in love with windsurfing when he was 13, quite by accident.
“I started windsurfing at a summer camp at the Clearwater Community Sailing Center,” he said. “It was something I never did before but after a week I knew I wanted to continue into it. Every time out is a new experience. Each time is different; it is never the same. The winds change; the tide changes. You get a sense of freedom.”
Coach Britt Viehman, who also ran a youth sailing team out of the Clearwater Center, ran that first camp.
“I joined the team the following fall and through it I was able to improve my skills and eventually partake in competitions,” he said.
Rudich is now in the middle of what is known in the sailing community as a “campaign.” A campaign is the four-year period between Olympics during which sailors compete nationally and internationally to earn a spot on the nation’s Olympic team. Rudich has been all over the world during this campaign.
“In the last year I have been to many countries either training or competing,” he said. “I trained in the Netherlands Antilles, and in Spain. And I competed in the RS:X European Windsurfing championships in Brest, France. I finished that competition as the second overall American.”
Coming up this year Rudich will participate in a competition in Turkey and another in Rio, site of the next Olympics. He describes that competition as a sort of practice Olympics.
Along for the ride are Rudich’s parents. His mother, Harriet, said she couldn’t be more proud of what her son has accomplished.
“I never imagined when I gave birth to him 17 years ago that he would be in the place where he is right now,” she said. “For me this is a huge surprise and it is a source of pride because it was so far from anything I ever grew up with.”
Harriet Rudich said while growing up in Queens in New York City her family was not into sports at all. She said nobody played or watched sports in her household; sports of any kind, let alone sailing she said.
“I knew nothing about sailing, I grew up on the streets and subways of New York,” she said. “This is very surprising and exciting, it is overwhelming and awe inspiring.”
Harriet said the challenge for the family now is to find the means to make her son’s dream come true.
“We’re going to try to support him as much as we can and try to get sponsors to help,” she said. “He can’t do this without help. You plan for college but not this; hopefully he’ll get there through grants and sponsors and whatever is out there.”
Harriet said she isn’t worried about her son as he travels the world because the sailing community seems to look after themselves.
“It is a tight-knit community and people are very accommodating,” she said. “When he travels he always has a place to stay, a family will always take him in. The windsurfing community is a nice group of people that help each other.”
No doubt due to Jonathans success, the Clearwater Community Sailing Center has been named a U.S. Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider Training Center. The designation will help Clearwater attract international competitions and make it easier for Rudich and other aspiring young windsurfers and sailors to train.
For now the focus has to be on the job at hand, getting a spot on the Olympic team. It won’t be easy. In addition to the time and dedication needed to secure that position Rudich still has school to contend with. He’s a senior at Palm Harbor University High School and hopes to attend either the University of Florida or a California University in the fall. He said California will make it easier to train; Gainesville isn’t near water.
Still his goal, his dream, is the Olympics. His mother has no doubt it will happen.
“He is a very determined young man,” she said of her son. “Always when he set his mind on something, nothing gets in his way. Hopefully, he’ll be able to do his best to get there.”