WITH a career that was birthed in the Caribbean Sea, TT sailor and soon to be three-time Olympian Andrew Lewis is making waves across the world.
He will represent TT at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan in the men’s single-handed dinghy event. In an in-depth interview with Newsday, he spoke about his early life, challenges, accomplishments and the journey to Tokyo.
The 30-year-old athlete was born and raised in Carenage but subsequently moved to Westmoorings, then Diego Martin.
As a youngster, his interests were sports and music. He attended Dunross Preparatory School in Diego Martin, ESHE’s Learning Centre, and the International School of Port of Spain.
While he still encourages others to take their education seriously, he said academia simply wasn’t for him. “I gave my teachers a good headache or two.”
At age nine, he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) – a condition that makes it difficult for one to maintain focus, and dyslexia – a condition that causes difficulties to read and write.
Asked how life was prior to his diagnosis, he said: “I was confused.
“You’re putting in the work and try hard like everyone else, but not succeeding like everyone so I was like ‘I wonder what’s going on?’”
He believes everyone has their forte. “I captained the football team, volleyball, (I was) leading almost all sports in my school at that time. Others had academics, I had my sports and art.
“You may not be the best at math or science but you may be amazing at drama or sports and you should respect that. But also don’t give up on your weakness because those are the things you can work harder at to be better.”
THE OCEAN IS MY HOME
Why sailing? According to Lewis, it is a very complex sport and he loves a good challenge. He has loved water all his life – from kiddy pools to the beach. “Probably from birth, they were putting me in the water to try and splash around,” he joked.
“When I step into the ocean, I feel like I belong. Every single time. I feel at home, I feel at peace.
“Even when it’s cold, humongous waves, rainy, lightning or when the sun is shining and it’s super hot, I am in a place of happiness.”
The type of boat he uses is called the Laser. It is lightweight, has a two-part, free-standing mast and a sleeved sail.
He said it was the most accessible and affordable for him when he had just started. He said these factors also make his event more difficult since the number of competitors is usually very high.
Although there are days he wonders how his life would have been if he had not chosen sailing, he has no regrets.
“I knew that if I was to go down the career path of sports, it would be much more impactful to the legacy I would like to leave behind than any of the other avenues that were open doors for me.”
FROM TT TO LONDON
The 2012 Audi Laser World Championships in Baltenhagen, Germany brought forth what Lewis says was the most important moment of his career. It was there, he qualified for his first-ever Olympic Games (London 2012). It was also the first time a TT sailor in his class had qualified for the Olympics, so he made history for not only himself but for his country.
“That was the point proven there.
“There were a lot of people who didn’t believe or support that this could be done, but there were a few who believed it could.”
He said after the race, he laid on the grass outside of his apartment for almost three hours, staring at the sky and reflecting on what he had just accomplished.
The feeling multiplied on the day he was set to compete in his first race at the Games.
“I was 19 years old, super young, I felt like I knew almost nothing in comparison to my competition. These guys were miles ahead of me, but that day just fired me up.”
He finished 37th out of 49 athletes that year. He said despite not being able to reach the finals, he was already excited to begin his journey to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
But this is where his story gets a bit different from the typical athlete. He qualified for the 2016 Games in July 2015. But on December 13, 2015, while in Brazil, Lewis suffered from a life-threatening injury. He was attempting to get back into his apartment since he had locked himself out. But as he was climbing off a particular surface, it crushed him, puncturing his lung, breaking his legs and several bones in his face.
Asked how he feels when December 13 comes around, he said: “It’s just another day in my life.”
He said he prefers to live in the moment than dwell on the past, but added that he is grateful he was able to recover. At the 2016 Games, he finished 39th out of 46 athletes.
He said a strong support system is crucial. Admittedly, when he first began his professional sporting career, his mother was a bit worried. He said she probably still is, given the risks taken to compete in such a sport. But as he continued, he gained the trust of those around him and they became more comfortable with it.
He said some people, in the past, thought sailing would end up being a short stint for him and that he’d end up in a 9-5 job.
But there are the ones who believed in him from day one and are still with him today.
“I had a press conference on Wednesday and I could only invite 40 people. My team is way bigger than 40 people. It feels like 200 to 300 people – humongous.”
He said he is surrounded by good energy.
SAILS SET FOR TOKYO
Lewis booked his spot in the 2020 Olympic Games on January 25, finishing fourth in the men’s laser medal race at the Hempel World Cup Series in Miami, Florida, United States.
His coach, two-time Olympian Javier Hernandez from Spain, told him to take a week off, then training would resume. He described Hernandez as a simple coach, which he appreciates as he is a simple man.
“A lot of coaches I’ve worked with either have all these complex books on how much we have to do this and that. “We live in the moment. Yes, we plan yes we have routines but a lot of coaches are too complex and too over-calculated. I need someone who is straightforward.”
The 2020 Olympic Games begin on July 24 and end August 9.
“Going into the Olympics I’m going to be very aware of how high my efforts are, how hard I am trying.
When I finish every single race, I must say I had nothing left in that race. I must be totally dead, I must be totally exhausted mentally and physically. Every single race must be like that.”
He said the word fail doesn’t exist in his dictionary. To him, you either win or you learn.
His main training camp is based at Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Spain but he will also be training in Greece, Italy and Tokyo leading up to the Games. “Whenever I do leave this sport, I must finished satisfied knowing I left this sport knowing more than ten per cent of my effort in the pinnacle event of the sport which is the Olympics.”
In 2017, he created the Andrew Lewis Foundation which focuses on education and sports, as well as mentorship through sailing – especially with individuals who also have dyslexia.
He said although it has only officially come into existence on paper in 2017, it existed since he was 16 years old.
He teaches children to sail for free, and does public and motivational speaking as well.
Athletes, in his opinion, have the opportunity to live one of the cleanest, healthiest lifestyles.
“The body is meant to be pushed but you have to treat it well, eat well, drink well, have a solid mind.”
He wishes to make an impact not only in the ocean, but in schools and communities throughout TT.
“I like to say that I would retire from this sport one day knowing that I made a very positive impact on my country, on the Earth, and left something the future could look up to.