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Engineering student competes at U21 World Sailing Championships in Morocco

October 22, 2023

Second year mechanical engineering student Anna Parolin is currently overseas as one of only five sailors representing Canada in the International Laser Class Association (ILCA) under 21 world sailing championships, which took place in Tangier, Morocco from October 15 to October 22, 2023. Nearly 200 sailors from 39 countries participate in this international event.

Anna Parolin cannot remember a time when sailing was not a huge part of her life. “Oh my goodness, I pretty much grew up on a sail boat,” she explains. “My parents and grandparents were big sailors and I have so many happy childhood memories of time on their little keelboat on the Ottawa River.”

Born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario, Parolin started taking sailing formal sailing lessons as a child through her local Nepean Sailing Club.

“They had a little learn to sail summer program—it was pretty much daycare on the water,” she says. “And then they’d have this one big race night a week, on Wednesday nights, and I started doing that and I realized that was something I could really do and keep doing.”

Later, she nurtured her love for competition when she joined the Opti race team at Britannia Yacht Club. Throughout her childhood and teenage years, she continued racing and learning the ropes as a young, competitive sailor. When she graduated high school, she was specifically seeking out a university that would further both her sailing career and her academic aspirations.

“I started looking for the best sailing venues in Canada and UVic was high on that list,” she explains. “I’d never been to Victoria before but I knew other sailors who had come to UVic and really did well continuing both their studies and their sailing, and when I took a tour around UVic, I liked what I saw!”

Parolin stared her engineering degree in September 2022. She is currently in second year as an undeclared student, but soon plans to pursue mechanical engineering. She sees a strong alignment between the problem-solving aspect of engineering and the technical aspects of thriving at sailing at a high, competitive level.

“I’ve found that a lot of sailors are engineers and a lot of engineers are sailors,” she says. “There’s this puzzle aspect to both. When you’re sailing you need to factor in the wind direction and sail flow, figure out how to get around a course the fastest and the whole part about problem solving and super fast paced decision making is what I love about sailing and what I’ve been really good at.”

In Victoria, Parolin trains with the Royal Victoria Yacht Club ILCA race team and competes in local regattas. In the future, Parolin aims to combine sailing and engineering into a career in the maritime industry.

“I knew that coming into university I wanted to have versatility for planning my future,” she says. ”Mechanical engineering gives you lots of options and looking ahead I’m interesting in marine engineering and I believe I will develop the transferable skills to go into that area.”

At UVic, she has found a faculty that has been supportive of both her academic and athletic goals.

“It’s not easy balancing everything but so far everyone has been pretty good and supportive,” she says. “My advice for others in the same situation is to really stay on top of your work, plan ahead, and be super transparent with the faculty, who have been very supportive of me taking time for training and competitions.”

After the U21 world championships, Parolin aims to continue to develop her competitive racing resume, with an eye on representing Canada competitively in the years to come.

“I’m hoping to make the national team. I am starting to train with the and get invited, so that’s the first step,” she says. “I want to make the national team and keep sailing competitively for as long as possible. I’ll keep doing the U21 competition until I age out, and get more experience and then plan to go on to the world championships where I can work on qualifying for the Olympics.”

Now firmly rooted in Victoria, she has no plans to move back to Ontario. “It’s definitely a west coast, best coast vibe here,” she says. “I love it here and I love the island life with so many opportunities to be outdoorsy and experience mountains and nature and beaches. I love it that I can literally go and hike a mountain that’s only 20 minutes from my home! This place is absolutely amazing and UVic just gives off such good vibes!”

Based on her passion and skill for sailing, strong academics, and dedicated work ethic, she is certainly garnering the attention of many in the competitive sailing world.

“I love sailing and when I’m out on the water, in my own little bubble, it’s like there is no such thing as land,” she says. “It’s just you and your boat and you can feel the water splashing on you and everything else just fades away.”

Story by Ivan Watson