Sailing already has taken 15-year-old Austin Ando around the world. During the past year, he has competed in Canada, Bermuda and Spain, not to mention all over the U.S. Perhaps it will take Ando to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Recently Ando, a member of the Prime Team, was one of 34 youths named to the U.S. National Sailing Team.
"He's a very self-driven kid," said his coach Spencer Wiberly, who along with Kevin Jewett coaches the Prime Team. "Austin started a little later than most kids do. He's had a really sharp learning curve and became a student of the sport.
"At the time he started, we had a lot of really strong kids getting ready to age out. He shadowed them quite a bit and has had success on the local and regional level."
Ando, the son of Guy and Wendy Ando of Mount Pleasant, began sailing when he was 9. He currently competes in Optis, a small, single-handed dinghy that's less than 8 feet long and 4 feet wide and enjoys worldwide popularity among youths.
"I had a friend, Cole Treece, who was sailing, and he asked me to come along to Hobcaw Yacht Club. It seemed like a fun thing to do, so I went," said Ando, who currently is training at a camp on Chautauqua Lake in New York.
During the past year, competing against hundreds of boats, he won the Southeastern Championships in Pensacola, Fla., finished second in the Great Lakes Championship in Ohio, fourth in the Junior Olympics in Florida, fourth at the Gulf Coast Championships in Mississippi and fifth at the National championships in Mississippi.
"I've met a lot of good friends from around the country through sailing. We stay in touch, mainly through Facebook, when we're not (competing)," Ando said.
Wiberly said there are more than 21,000 registered Optis in the U.S., and about 225 boats are invited to team trials by the U.S. Optimist Dinghy Association, which would make Ando competing "among the top 1 or 2 percent in the country."
Competitive sailing takes both time and money. Knowing the hurdles, Ando decided to do online schooling with Connections Academy, although this fall he will attend Wando High School, where he will be a sophomore.
Wiberly said a story about Ando's willingness to do whatever it takes to compete is something he will share with others for as long as he coaches.
Ando wanted to travel out of state to train. His parents were willing, but asked who would pay for the travel? So Ando began his own Christmas wreath company, traveling to tree lots and gathering up the clippings to make the wreaths.
"He sells them in our neighborhood, by advertising on Facebook, and I sell to people at my office," Wendy Ando said. "He has done this for the last three years and has a lot of repeat customers.
"He usually hires a couple of people to work for him because he cannot make enough for demand, but he is very picky and puts the wreaths through quality inspection. If the wreath doesn't meet his standards, he takes it apart and won't sell it. Last year, he hired a retired lady down the street and his brother to make wreaths for him while he traveled to compete in the Junior Olympics. Last year, he made and sold about 70 wreaths."
Such determination is what allows him to compete at such a high level, Wiberly said.
"He's a very strong advocate for himself as a sailor," Wiberly said. "He did everything he could to make it happen, beyond just showing up for practices. He not only trained, but he also recognized the back end of what it takes to be an athlete. He's realizing he has to raise these funds to travel, to meet his dream."
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