Cambridge graduate overcomes fear by sail training

Greenwich prof Kuang

University of Cambridge graduate Yao Shi was 7-years-old when his mother pushed him into a swimming pool, so he could learn to swim. This created an extremely traumatic experience for Yao, and he developed a great fear of the water ever since. This fear accompanied him for over 15 years.

Yao decided to take up sail training to help overcome his fear from childhood. After a few days of training, together with seven other Chinese college students, he sailed in the Tall Ships’ Race from Falmouth, through the English Channel and all the way to River Thames in London. Although they only stayed at sea for four days, they had to combat seasickness and large waves. When they went on shore again, they suddenly felt as if there were reborn.

“10 meter waves were hitting us and made us really dizzy,” Yao Shi said, “But my days of fearing the water had gone forever.”

There was another person who felt more scared about his sailing experience. It was Yao Shi’s mother Qingyu Shi. She was very worried about her son’s childhood experience. “He can’t swim at all. Last year, when he mentioned that he was going to sail on the Tall Ships’ Race, I strongly disagreed. And anyway, he is the only child we have, so Yao’s father and I were determined to make him give up the idea.”

Leaving Falmouth

However, Yao persevered with the idea of going sailing . He got to know another alumni of Cambridge University, Wing Chan. Wing helped to establish the China Sail Training Association (CSTA) . He boarded a Tall Ship for the first time when he was only 16-years-old. The purpose for Wing of setting up CSTA in Britain is to offer Chinese students the opportunity to know more about sailing and about themselves.

Qingyu Shi felt that her son had really grown up from the training. She said: “The cell-phone signals on board were not regular, so Yao was always out of reach. All I could do was to pray for him. When I got to know he had finally made it back to dry land safely, I believed it was worth all the worrying.”

The Chinese students were part of 2014 International Tall Ships Regatta in UK. More than 50 tall ships from all over the world were involved in and completed the voyage. Sailing ships of many different sizes moored on River Thames as a tall ship exhibition, opposite the Royal Naval College London, attracting over 2 million people to visit them within several days.

Wing Chan says: “China should be more involved in sail training activities, since this can make people appreciate the feeling of control over their own destiny. Sail Training is also able to cultivate the leadership qualities of young people. After all, the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow. You can’t learn leadership from a book, or a chat over a cup of tea. Sail Training is available to all.”

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