Carolyn Russell is the rare leader in the sailing community who sees just as much, if not more, value in creating space for others to thrive on the water as she does in developing her own skills as a sailor. Carolyn spearheads the Women on the Water program at American Yacht Club in Rye, N.Y. where she looks to create opportunities for women sailors of all levels to deepen their knowledge of sailing, whether for recreational purposes or with the objective of competing successfully in various regattas. The club as a whole, but especially the contingency of women sailors, has benefitted enormously from Carolyn’s leadership that promotes inclusivity of sailors of all levels and values learning collaboratively above everything else.
“For me, and the Women on the Water committee, it’s all about getting more women on the water sailing,” said Carolyn. “Having all women clinics and an all women crew out on Friday nights, allows women to engage in the sport, play an active role on a boat and meet other women who love to sail. Since founding our program, I have spoken to other clubs about their own women’s sailing programs. It’s exciting to see WOW take off at other clubs.”
Carolyn saw a commonality between the goals of the U.S. Junior Women’s Doublehanded Championship and the sailing philosophy of American Yacht Club and pursued the opportunity to host this US Sailing Championship at AYC. As chairwoman of this prestigious event, held at AYC on June 15-21, 2014, Carolyn had a clear vision for the experience that the girls would have during their week at AYC and in partnership with US Sailing successfully energized a large contingent of coaches, race committee members and other club volunteers to utilize their individual talents and knowledge to contribute to this success of this event. Under Carolyn’s leadership, 82 young women sailors had an unforgettable opportunity to learn, grow and compete with the support of American Yacht Club.
Carolyn is currently one of two woman trustees of American Yacht Club. In addition to her efforts on behalf of women sailors at her own club, she has been instrumental in starting the Women’s Invitational Team Race at AYC in 2012, and in June this year she led the effort for this event for the third year in a row, bringing as many as eight teams of women to AYC from clubs around the U.S. Carolyn is also the head coach of the Women’s Sailing Team at Greenwich Academy in Greenwich, Conn., where she empowers high school girls to be the best athletes they can be. Coach Russell is an intuitive teacher who can connect off the water theories to on the water experiences to deepen the girls’ understanding of the sport.
Her own sailing resume is also impressive. Carolyn sails regularly on the J/44 Maxine, serving as the unstoppable bow woman in races all around Long Island Sound. She has completed numerous Newport to Bermuda races and countless Block Island Race Weeks. She also never misses the opportunity to compete locally in smaller boats, having won the LIS Women’s Championship (Queen’s Cup) in 2010 and the Area B Women’s Championships (2008), both held in the Ideal 18. Carolyn has taken her talents and great attitude to the national level, having competed twice in the U.S. Women’s Championship (Adams Cup, now known as U.S. Adult Championships), finishing second in 2011.
Carolyn is also a well-loved and loyal friend, a devoted mother to two amazing kids (Parker, 11 and Lane, 9) and has been happily married to Christopher Russell for 15 years. Not surprisingly, you can usually find the family together on the water.
“Women juggle a lot to be on the water, especially for those of us that have a day job, a family and other commitments off the water,” mentioned Carolyn. “I am very lucky as my husband and kids love the water and to sail – it’s a true family event and now that the kids are in their own programs they are helpful when we sail as a family.”
Carolyn’s suggestions for US Sailing Championship hosts?
1. Smile, be ready for anything and willing to adjust as the event unfolds. As hosts, we can plan everything down to the number of granola bars (and you’ll need a lot), but at the end of the day when the breeze doesn’t fill in until 2 pm it’s important to get the sailing and racing in, so the shore crew may have to scramble to re-arrange the evening plans.
2. Surround yourself with a fun and talented committee that gets the job done with a sense of humor. The USJWDC was a success because of an incredible group of people that loves sailing, supports women’s sailing and is committed to our Club.
3. In preparing, ask lots of questions. There are lots of past event chairs out there that have a wealth of information to share from labeling dollies to housing to transport. It’s all helpful and adaptable to your own event.