ANNAPOLIS, MD – Like many residents of Maryland, Farrah Hall grew up in the Chesapeake Bay. She walked around the beaches of Cape St. Clair and built forts with her younger brother. She sailed on any boat available, which was primarily her family’s 14ft daysailer.
“Basically my whole sense of being comes from the Chesapeake,” Hall said. “That’s how I grew up. It’s my culture. I really feel right at home on the water, and that’s mainly because of Maryland.”
Hall’s connection to water eventually led her to try windsurfing. Within 10 minutes, she was hooked.
County native Anne Arundel didn’t know it at the time, but the sport would ultimately change her life. Hall represented the United States team at the Tokyo Olympics this summer. She also competed in the London Games in 2012.
Hall blew out his new hobby as a teenager. She graduated from Broadneck High School in 1999 and practiced that summer in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Hall then studied biology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where she established a windsurfing club.
The sailor didn’t consider going pro until two-time Olympic medalist Mike Gebhardt visited his team. It turned Hall’s wheels. Maybe she could really be a professional?
Hall graduated from college in 2003. She briefly worked in Florida, but the idea of being an Olympian stuck in her head.
One day, Hall got down to it. She sold all of her possessions, drove a van to the Oregon-Washington border, and practiced on the Columbia River.
Hall started running locally. Then at the national level. Then internationally.
She eventually got a scholarship to train in Poland. Several European regattas led Hall to the 2008 Olympic Trials, his biggest competition to date.
The young windsurfer behaved well and qualified for the Beijing Games, but there was a problem. Her closest opponent, Nancy Rios, filed a lawsuit claiming a collision tore her sail and prevented her from winning the race.
Hall was not involved in the accident, but a legal battle ensued. The jury sided with Rios, denying Hall a place at the Olympics.
The Annapolis woman would have to wait another four years for her big breakup. She then qualified for the London Games, finishing 20th. In Tokyo, Hall jumped to 15th place.
Fans only see the final product at the Olympiad. They bask in decorated ceremonies filled with triumphant music and patriotic flags.
However, viewers don’t experience the whirlwind of obstacles putting athletes to the test along the way.
“There’s a certain level of pressure you have as an American athlete because there’s a lot of marketing and hype,” Hall said. “There’s a lot of pressure to be a certain way, to present yourself to the public in a certain way, and on a certain level, that’s exploitation.”
These expectations can weigh heavily on the Olympians. The world saw it firsthand this summer with American star Simone Biles.
As the most decorated gymnast in US history, Biles carried lofty aspirations in Tokyo. These goals have proven to be dangerous.
Biles unexpectedly withdrew from the all-around team final, citing mental health issues. She then dropped out of four more individual competitions before returning and winning bronze on beam.
“I really understand what she’s going through,” Hall said, noting that she has also struggled with mental health issues and media criticism. “I’m lucky to be in a sport that isn’t like that because it’s not a sport that gets a lot of publicity in the United States.”
Sailing may be more followed, but its steep price places a different burden on athletes.
Windsurfing teams can invest $ 150,000 in their best sailors each year, Hall explained. She mentioned that training can easily cost $ 1,000 a day.
“It’s basically accessible to the rich,” Hall said. “There are a lot of obstacles you have to overcome.”
American windsurfers often receive less team funding than their overseas competitors. This forces Hall to recruit his own sponsors to pay for the coaching. Hall said he spends around $ 60,000 a year on his craft.
“You’re trying to navigate, you’re trying to raise enough money to stay in the game, and you’re kind of trying to keep up with everyone,” Hall said. “It really is kind of an innovative and financial game.”
At 39, Hall has not yet decided if she will shoot for the Paris 2024 Games. The financial and physical aspects of the Olympics are demanding and the sailor is looking for stability.
Hall currently lives in France, her husband’s home country. She coaches alongside and competes with a club team called Aloha Attitude.
Whether or not she opts for another Olympic campaign, Hall plans to pursue her windsurfing career.
“Funny, I’m not using my college degree at all,” Hall joked. “I have lived much longer as a windsurfer than I have lived as a biologist.”
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