Andrew Lewis will not leave the 2016 Olympic Games with a medal. But the Trinidad and Tobago sailor is a true warrior, and--precious metal or not--commands the title of champion.
Lewis again found the going tough on day three of the Rio 2016 men's laser class event, here in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, yesterday. He finished 41st in race five and 34th in race six to remain in 42nd spot overall, with four races to go.
The Andrew Lewis story, however, goes far beyond results on the water. Yesterday's races were contested on the Copacabana course, out in the treacherous Atlantic Ocean. Driver of my hard-bottom inflatable media boat, Mauricio Lima noted that yesterday's rough conditions only occur twice per year. The law of averages worked against the laser sailors, particularly Lewis, who was hoping for much lighter winds.
And what a day for this journalist to insist, against advice, that the media boat go out to the laser race. Wind speed reached up to 23 knots, and the dash to see Lewis come around mark one in race five was like nothing I had ever experienced before, flying over waves and hitting the ocean hard. Believe me when I say that I offered up many prayers.
For Lewis, however, it was another day at the office.
“I've been doing this since I was probably nine or eight years old,” he told the Express, “sailing in these crazy conditions. So to me this is extreme fun and extreme joy. At no point in time do I feel like it's a life-threatening situation. I'm very happy to be out there. I'm in my element. I'm really enjoying this.
“I wish the cameras were on us today for Trinidad and Tobago to really see the crazy conditions that we're out there battling and racing and fighting for that first place.”
Well, this T&T citizen witnessed it, first hand. And, thank God, I have lived to tell the story.
As much as Lewis wanted to be among the top sailors here in Rio, the reality is he is not competing on a level playing field with his 45 laser class rivals. In December, during a training stint here in Brazil, a concrete roof collapsed on the T&T sailor. There were multiple broken bones and a punctured lung…he was lucky to be alive.
But instead of accepting that he would never again compete at an elite level in his beloved sport, Lewis made a decision to take up the Olympic spot he had earned. He then proceeded to build his body back. No one could have faulted him if he had chosen to turn his back on the punishment of sailing on the open seas.
“I'll always have a belief in God as number one priority,” said Lewis. “But it also comes from experience. We've been experiencing this over and over for many years. What tends to happen is that you simply become immune to it, and when you see these conditions you become happy because it's extremely good fun when you're going down with the wind.”
Happy? Fun? That wasn't my experience, and compared to Lewis, in his dinghy, I rode in luxury.
Lewis admitted that while he has sailed in rougher waters in the past, yesterday's conditions were quite challenging, especially since his left leg, which he broke in the accident, is not yet back to full strength.
“Less than one percent of T&T knows the serious level of struggle it is out there in those conditions. At times I'm a little worried for my leg. These are extremely powerful conditions and the conditions I had hoped we wouldn't get.”
“I used to like those conditions, but I'm not as heavy as I would like to be, and my left leg is definitely not as strong as I would like it be. But it's survival of the fittest out there.”
Experienced sailors, Bill and Kim Jelley—an Australian volunteer couple—accompanied me out on the Atlantic Ocean, yesterday, their confidence on the water providing some measure of comfort.
Lewis, though, has no company when he's battling his heart out for the Red, White and Black. It's lonely out there.
Dwayne Bravo, when you're doing a remix of your hit song, “Champion”, please reserve a line for a T&T hero: “Everybody knows Andrew Lewis is a champion”!