A Conversation with Renae and Rhonda Mintz

Renae and Rhonda Mintz are serial entrepreneurs, professors, IT professionals, a project manager, NASM certified personal trainers, and mechanical design engineers with a proven track record of developing business solutions for Fortune 500, mid-size, and start-up organizations and instruction of the future generations. They are expert problem solvers and change agents whose have seen many successes and challenges, both personally and professionally. Both Renae and Rhonda are active sailors who are involved in US Sailing’s DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) Committee.

In honor of Black History Month, US Sailing sat down with them to discuss their sailing background and life experiences.

US Sailing: How did you get started sailing? What was your introduction to the sport?

Renae: I first saw sailing on either NBC or ABC – they used to air the America’s Cup and I just thought it looked intriguing. After seeing that I decided I was going to try sailing!

When we went to grad school at Eastern Michigan University, University of Michigan had a sailing club that was open to the public – that was our first experience with sailing. Then we moved to Florida and ended up going to the Davis Island Yacht Club as racing crewing member. I wanted to not only crew but steer the boat, so I joined the dinghy dames at Davis Island Yacht Club. My introduction with these boats was feeling basically like a cork in the water because they would sail all around me. The boat was so tiny, and I was oversized for that boat. Pram sailing just wasn’t for me.

Through this, I ended up meeting a gentleman who told me about the Clearwater Sailing Center. At the time, Rhonda was disabled. Turns out the program director there, Rich White, instructed para sailors, and he made it his goal to teach us to sail all the club boats at the Sailing Center and not get injured.

US Sailing: And Rhonda, I guess same question goes for you. It sounds like you did a lot of your sailing growing up together. I don’t know if you have any different experiences with your introduction to the sport?

Rhonda: Pretty much the same because we rolled together except that I had injuries to work around. When I injured my ankle, that pretty much cut the racing and I was housebound in a wheelchair. And when I did get out of the house, I would just go sit on the sidelines.

US Sailing: You mention that Rich was a para sailing instructor. What were some of the things that he was able to do to help you get back into sailing?

Rhonda: He taught me how to navigate the boat with the injury that I had and made sure that any barriers to kept me from sailing were removed. I was inspired by Franck Cammas, who was an America’s Cup sailor who broke his leg and had a special brace made that he could sail in. I found somebody that makes custom ankle braces, and I took that picture to him and I said, ‘Can you make me a brace so that I can get back on the water?’  I don’t get them wet because it has metal rivets – but I’m able to cover them up.

US Sailing: So why is sailing important to you? I know we kind of talked about how you got into it, but what really keeps you coming back to it?

Rhonda: Because I enjoy it. When I got injured, I couldn’t really walk. So when I got into sailing, I was able to go out on the water and let the wind catch me. As a disabled sailor, it gave me freedom to do things that I couldn’t do on land.

US Sailing: And Renae, why is sailing important to you?

Renae: Because it’s challenging – it’s challenging in the sense that it’s just like life. You go and the wind blows. Even though you have a final destination, the wind determines how or when you’re going to get there. You have to navigate around. When I’m out there, not only is it peaceful, just sitting there and letting the wind blow on you, but it’s also intellectually stimulating. You’re working against nature; you’re working against an obstacle to overcome. We’ve always made it to our destination, even if we get there faster than we had anticipated or it takes longer than we had anticipated.

Rhonda: Or you get a tow in.

Renae: Oh yeah, or you get a tow in. It’s just like life though. Things happen, you make concessions and you overcome obstacles. It’s problem solving.

US Sailing: So as Black women, have you had to overcome any barriers to entry to the sport?

Renae: Actually, not so far. And I’ll tell you why. We ended up meeting this gentleman, he was a retired dentist. His name was Dr. Gary Baines.

Rhonda: And we’re like, “Well, we want to sail but we don’t really know anybody in this area.” He’s like, “Well wait a minute. I have a friend. Let me call her and let her know that you want to sail.”  And when we went to the Davis Island Yacht Club, we had asked about the dress code and different things.

Renae: We made it to the front door. There was a lady named Amy and I’ll never forget Amy. Amy came running. She was very welcoming, took us around, “Hi, come get some drinks, meet everybody. I will take you to George.” George Haynie was also very inspirational. We raced and sailed on his boat and he taught us so much.

Rhonda: Let me tell you this, though: as far as the workplace, yes, we have been discriminated against, undervalued, underpaid and abused at different places. In the workplace, you had the good people, and you had the bad people. The bad people were in places that they shouldn’t have been. They made life more difficult.

But as far as sailing, the encounters that we’ve had, they have been all positive. I loved going sailing to get away from the difficult people at the job because it gave me a breath of fresh air – literally, the breeze and the people.

US Sailing: How did you both get involved with the DEI committee and why is it important to you to be involved in that way with US Sailing?

Rhonda: At first, I didn’t know that [US Sailing] even had a DEI committee. Renae and I had a mentor who was a Tuskegee Airman, who retired as an Army Lt. Colonel. He was in our lives most of our adult life until he passed away. And when [microaggressions and aggressions] would happen, we’d get so annoyed, and he told us, ‘There’s going to be a lot of obstacles in your life. If you look at every bad situation, then you won’t have peace in your life. Only fight the ones that are worth fighting.’

I got involved after George Floyd’s death happened because I felt it opened up people’s eyes. I said, “Okay, now I can actually use my energy to make a difference and make things positive because people are receptive to it. Let me start with the DEI committee and see how I can make an impact and make a change.” And that’s how I got there.

Renae: Once she found it, Rhonda told me, “Renae, pick out a committee,” and I said, “What? Let me go over here and try to add some value and take my experiences and add value to people.” So that’s how I ended up on the committee, she pulled me in.

US Sailing: What has been your biggest inspiration both in sailing and in the DEI realm? And what motivates you to continue doing that kind of work.

Renae: Just to give back, because we’ve been blessed with so many awesome mentors and an awesome family, awesome friends…

Rhonda: Awesome community.

Renae: Yeah, awesome community. And when you’ve been given to, you just want to give back.

US Sailing: And lastly, what does Black History Month in general mean to you?

Renae: It’s a moment of time where we stop and reflect. Because too many times, we don’t reflect, like Rhonda said when she was talking about George Floyd. A lot of people were living and not really paying attention to what other people were experiencing. If you’re not exposed to it, then how would you know that somebody else has this problem? It just gives you a chance to just look outside of yourself, look at somebody else besides just you.

Rhonda: And, I would add, by having those special months it sets aside time to reflect and show what other people have done. And that’s something that’s very positive. Instead of the negative stuff that you see on the news, you take that moment to show the positive things. 

US Sailing: Thank you both so much for your time.


https://www.sailingworld.com/franck-cammas-back-on-water/  Here is one of the articles about him.


https://www.sailingworld.com/franck-cammas-back-on-water/  Here is one of the articles about him.