At the top of their games

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Johnny Heineken and Jennifer French were honored Tuesday as US Sailing’s 2012 Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year at an emotional ceremony at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco.

Family, friends, sailing dignitaries and fellow sailors attended the awards luncheon, and former US Sailing president Gary Jobson was the emcee.

Heineken, of Larkspur, Calif., who won the 2012 Kiteboard Course Racing World Championship in Cagliari, Sardinia, in October, and French, of St. Petersburg, Fla., silver medalist in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London in the SKUD-18 class (with crewmember JP Creignou of St. Petersburg, Fla.), gave heartfelt speeches after receiving engraved Rolex watches.

“I am so honored to be amongst the fantastic sailors who were nominated in 2012 and even more honored to win,” French said. “It’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; that’s why it attracts me.”



The above video includes sailing footage of French and Heineken.

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.


Heineken was introduced by Bill Hardesty, the 2011 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, who offered this assessment: “Johnny has taken kiteboarding to the next level; he makes it look easy.”

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Heineken is a back-to-back kiteboarding course racing world champion (2011 and 2012) after spending most of his life boardsailing and sailing. It was not until 2009 that he learned to kiteboard.


“Kiteboarding is an evolution of sailing, not a new sport,” Heineken said, “and the fact that everyone is seeing it that way is pretty special. I’m amazed to have my name added to a list of sailors I’ve grown up idolizing.”

Click here for the full report on the awards ceremony.