Jen French - US Sailing’s 2012 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year
From left to right: Rolex Watch U.S.A. President and CEO Stewart Wicht with 2012 Rolex Yachtswoman of the year Jennifer French and US Sailing President Tom Hubbell
Photograph:Tom O'Neil / Rolex
At an emotional ceremony today at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, Johnny Heineken (Larkspur, Calif.) and Jennifer French (St. Petersburg, Fla.) were celebrated as US Sailingâ€™s 2012 Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year. Formally announced in January after being chosen for their outstanding on-water sailing accomplishments in 2012, the honourees were joined by family, friends, sailing dignitaries, fellow sailors and members of the media for a luncheon program. Established in 1961 by US Sailing and sponsored by Rolex Watch, U.S.A. since 1980, US Sailing's Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year awards are considered the sport's ultimate recognition of an individualâ€™s outstanding on-the-water achievements for the calendar year. The process of determining the recipients starts each September when US Sailing invites its membership to make online nominations. A shortlist of nominees is then reviewed by a panel of noted sailing journalists who discuss the merits of each nominee and vote to determine the winners. Over its history the coveted award has been presented to 41 men and 34 women.
The event was emceed by former US Sailing President Gary Jobson and the luncheon included a multi-media retrospective of their rise to the top of the sport. Heineken, the 2012 Kiteboarding Course Racing World Champion, and French, the 2012 Paralympic Silver Medallist in the SKUD 18 class, each gave heartfelt speeches after being awarded specially engraved stainless steel and platinum Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Masters, symbolic of their achievements in excellence, by Rolex Watch U.S.A. President and CEO Stewart Wicht.
I am so honoured to be amongst the fantastic sailors who were nominated in 2012 and even more honoured to win,â€ said French. â€œItâ€™s a huge move forward for disabled sailing, the only sport where sailors can leave their wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs behind and go out and compete against able-bodied people; thatâ€™s why it attracts me.â€ French took several seconds to leave her own wheelchair to stand during her acceptance speech, utilizing a neuroprosthetic system she helped pioneer after a 1998 snowboarding accident left her a quadriplegic.
French called her Paralympic silver medal performance â€œa fantastic journeyâ€ and said she couldnâ€™t have done it without crew JP Creignou (St. Petersburg, Fla.) and many others who supported them. â€œWe were standing on their shoulders and fortunate for our outcomes. To gain a silver medalâ€¦it was not only an honor to represent Team USA but also an honor to follow in the footsteps of (2005 Rolex Yachtsman) Nick Scandone and his legend as well.â€ Scandoneâ€™s wife, Mary Kate Scandone, had introduced French, saying, â€œFor Jen to achieve her goals as a disabled sailor is amazing.â€ Nick Scandone, who died in 2009, won a Paralympic gold medal and was the first-ever disabled sailor named for this award. French is the second.