February 2023, Articles

“Water ninjas” and their tight team

When you are trapezing with your feet off the side of your yacht at 40km per hour, it’s a safe bet you want to know the hard yards in the gym, on the water and in the physio’s room will keep you in one piece and out in front.

That’s the goal for Erica Dawson and Micah Wilkinson, the two-person crew of one of yachting’s new foiling classes, as they turn their sights in training and competition towards Paris 2024.

“We are literally trying to fly a boat which is very unstable and very fast,” says the pair.  “We have to stay up in the air, travelling at considerable speed, maintaining balance while running up and down to catch every wave.  And all of that with a razor sharp foil in dangerously close proximity.”

It is Micah and Erica’s HPSNZ team of Strength and Conditioning Coach Angad Marwah, Physiologist Anna Skipper and Physio Mark Overington who are charged with ensuring the pair’s preparation is optimal, key work-ons to improve performance are focused on collaboratively and injury risk minimised in this high speed, risk and reward sport.

The trio meet as a team twice a week to ensure everyone is on the same page with the sailors.  Once a week they are also joined by Craig Panther, the doctor for the yachting programme.

Technology, using mobile apps to monitor and manage training performance, is a key tool for Angad, Anna and Mark providing data which the trio are able to access to help inform their individual programmes.

In HPSNZ’s Auckland gym, Angad works four days a week with Erica and Micah as they focus on their individual work-ons with Mark often alongside keeping an eye on the prehab and injury prevention side of their physical preparations.

“Erica and Micah have slightly different areas of focus from a S&C perspective,” says Angad, who has been working with the pair for three years.

“Their individual programmes vary and I’m constantly tweaking them based on the data collected from the TeamBuildr app.

“This is particularly useful when Micah and Erica are overseas as they can go online to access the information about their daily workouts, previous data and focus for each session.”  Angad says Micah, the helmsman, is very strong but needs to focus on being agile and explosive on the boat.

“We use GymAware which is attached to a piece of gym equipment (usually a barbell) and linked to a mobile device and is particularly helpful for tracking velocities of some of the key lifts. This allows us to set targets for strength, power and speed depending on the phase of the programme that they are in.”

Anna also uses technology tools such as Training Peaks Platform for every session, whether on the water, in the gym or during cardio and other general activity sessions.

“This tool monitors Micah and Erica’s sailing programme and I add in their cardio programme which is periodised.  Once all the data is captured, I use their heart rate data to check if they are operating in the right training zone and load.”

Like the technology tools Angad uses in the gym, Anna says the tool she uses is a good platform for Erica and Micah when they are on the road here or overseas, especially when they are in different time zones.

“It has been a big education job for new sailors to get them to understand what the data means and how to adjust their programmes while they are training remotely.”

Micah and Erica are both unique and their roles on the Nacra 17 have been flipped on their heads.  Before Tokyo Erica took the helm and Micah was the crew – on the Nacra 17 their roles are reversed.

This has also meant different skillsets and different physical preparation are needed.

“Being robust is critical for the pair.  They need to be fit and strong enough to do their role without injury.  They can be on the water for two to three hours every day for five days so have to be able to sustain their explosiveness and endurance over long periods,” says Anna.  “I think of Erica and Micah as ninjas on the water.”

Physio Mark Overington is the third member of the tight team.  As a former sailor, Erica and Micah welcome his knowledge of their sport along with his expertise as a physiotherapist.

“The team approach provides a sharp focus on what the pair need to work on,” says Mark.

“For example I know Erica’s history of body niggles which we have to stay on top of.  My role is to improve her daily recovery plan to ensure she increases her general physical robustness along with improving her upper body strength and implement drills to help with the agility needs of her role on the boat.

“Angad and I have very similar approaches and work together to ensure not only are they getting bigger, stronger and fitter, but also healthier with a reduced injury risk.”

Mark says foiling has changed the injury profile of the sport a lot.  “Historically most injuries were to shoulders and lower backs.  Now we are dealing with more impact injuries due to high speed crashes.

“While the injury risks have changed so too has the kit foiling sailors have.  Helmets are a must and an investment has been made into providing wetsuits which help reduce the cuts from the razor sharp foil.”

Micah and Erica have started to move steadily up the rankings in their class and are now real podium contenders for Paris 2024.

“Our HPSNZ tight team, along with our Yachting NZ support team of Ian Stewart, Grant Beck and Simon Cooke, are pretty special.

“We feel privileged that everyone is 100% invested in getting us to achieve our goals.”

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