Ryan Garraty can check off one huge accomplishment in his young life and he now has sights set on a new objective.
The Marco Island Charter Middle School seventh grader had his heart set on earning a spot on the 2018 United States Optimist Dinghy Association Team in the 11-to-12 age group. He achieved that goal recently at the organization’s team trials in Key Biscayne, where he was one of the top 55 finishers out of 220 youthful sailors from across the nation.
An “optimist” is a small, one-person dinghy that is roughly 7½ feet long, with a mast of equal height.
This was the third consecutive year the Marco resident qualified for the team trials, which require competitors to, like Ryan, place within the top 25 percent of their age group at qualifying regattas throughout the year or in the top 50 percent at the national championships held the previous summer.
“Really, since the (first) team trials, it’s been my priority,” he said of making the national team. Ryan said he was “pretty giddy,” when learned at the regatta’s end that he’d qualified, but his reaction was restrained because a close friend who didn’t make it was close by. “It’s always been my dream to make the U.S. team and I did it,” he added with a chuckle and a big smile.
The team trials were held on a Thursday through Friday in late April at the Key Biscayne Yacht Club, near Miami, which required Ryan to awake at about 6 AM, for a day that ended at 5 PM to 6 PM, said his mother Gigi Garraty, an art teacher at Marco Island Charter Middle School.
“Ryan did really well all week,” she added. “This is the best he’s ever done. We’re really pleased. He’s worked very hard to get here.”
Qualifying for the team enables Ryan to practice with his top performing teammates, receive instruction from the team’s expert coaches and to compete as a team member in USODA regattas around the country, said Gigi Garraty.
While basking in his accomplishment, Ryan is also eyeing the next challenge, qualifying for the USODA’s team in the world championships. Competitors must be one of the top five finishers at the team trials, which opens the door to competing internationally.
His mother said that whether it’s competing on a national or international level, travel and equipment costs are borne by the families and not the USODA, which is an “expensive prospect.”
Ryan, who recently turned 13, began sailing at age 6 with his father, Robert, who is a realtor on Marco.
The family, which includes his 8-year-old brother Colin, spends summers in the coastal community of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, where Robert Garraty grew up as an avid sailor.
“It was actually really scary at first with the tipping of the boat when it gets real windy,” said Ryan. “But now, everything is fun. Even if it’s really windy, it’s all great.”
Gigi Garraty, who comes from a sailing family in Massachusetts, said she and her husband enrolled Ryan in Watch Hill Yacht Club’s youth sailing program, where he continues to train in the summer.
Over the years, he’s also received training at the Marco Island Community Sailing Center and the Naples Community Sailing Center. Ryan and his brother currently train on weekends at the Coral Reef Yacht Club in Miami.
Ryan said he’s not into team sports and that sailing is one of the few things he looks forward to.
“It’s his passion,” added his mother.
“The wind and the water,” Ryan said in explaining his attraction to the sport. “There’s a lot going on and it’s a real mental challenge and there’s the feeling of doing well. It just feels really good.”
Gigi Garraty said given the expense involved, she and her husband hope to line up sponsors for Ryan as he pursues his sailing goals. To contribute or learn more, call Robert Garraty at 239-777-2679.