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Sisters prepare for 2020 Olympics

COURTESY PHOTO Atlantic and Nora Brugman captured recently training for the 2020 Olympic Games.
COURTESY PHOTO Atlantic and Nora Brugman captured recently training for the 2020 Olympic Games.

In about three years, Islanders might see two of their own in the Olympic games.

Born in Spain 16 months apart, sisters Atlantic, 26, and Nora Brugman, 25, who have been instructors at the Shelter Island Yacht Club (SIYC) for four years, are making an Olympic bid for the 2020 Tokyo games.

The sisters, who have U.S. citizenship through their father, Daniel, grew up coming to the United States during the summer from Spain to sail. They have Olympic bloodlines as well — an uncle was an Olympic skier.

“We come from a very sports-oriented family,” Nora said, noting that her father played hockey in Yale and later as a pro in Europe, where he met the girls’ mother.

Asked how a sailor came to be named after an ocean — it was, no surprise, not the first time she’s been asked — Atlantic said since her father is American and her mother is Spanish, “what’s between is the Atlantic Ocean. Also, my parents wanted me to be a sailor.”

She and her sister have used the Olympics as a motivating tool for a long time, telling themselves during regattas that they would win Olympic gold if they just passed another boat.

In their roles as instructors at the SIYC, Atlantic and Nora have taught novice sailors as well as more experienced ones. After being recruited by a Connecticut College coach and SIYC sailing director Jeff Bresnahan, Atlantic attended and sailed for the college and began working as an instructor at the SIYC in 2011.

Nora, who went to college in Spain at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, joined Atlantic in 2012 to teach the sport she loves.

Now that the SIYC summer junior program has ended, Nora and Atlantic are training full time, focusing on technique, endurance, speed, maneuvers and starts.

This past week, they’ve have been working with friend Amanda Clark, an Islander and Olympian, who sailed in the 2012 London Olympics. This fall they’ll head north to train in Newport.

Atlantic and Nora started sailing Opti boats at ages 4 and 3. Their father taught them, tying their boats to his bowline. The sisters eventually progressed to racing just a few years later, and started sailing as a team, qualifying for the World Cup sailing in their 420 boat. They now sail a slightly larger two-person rigged 470 boat.

The locale for training corresponds to where their regattas take them, Nora said, which has been all over the world. In 2008, they sailed with the U.S. team in Greece.

Though they’ve had exciting experiences throughout their sailing careers, one of the earlier ones came to mind. While sailing at an Opti regatta as children, the Race Committee canceled a day of competition because of wind, blowing at 40 knots. Many sailors, including the two sisters, still rigged up their boats to practice.

Big mistake.

Their boats kept filling with water, and they soon had to head back to shore. “It was scary, but we stuck together,” Nora remembered.

Though the dream of sailing in the Olympics was already on their minds, a friend and SIYC member, Steve Houston, brought up the subject at a club event. They decided to go for it, and have since begun their Olympic campaign.

The SIYC and the Shelter Island community have continued to be a support system, the sisters said, with Mr. Houston hosting a fundraiser recently where Nora and Atlantic explained their Olympic dream and what it will take to get there.

To train successfully, the sisters need to raise funds for equipment, coaching and travel.

Asked their favorite part of sailing, Atlantic said that sailors must adapt to whatever hand nature deals them, making every day different,

“It teaches you to control the uncontrollable,” Nora added. “You have to work with what you have.”