Katrina survivor’s Olympian efforts win him a berth on US sailing team
John Dane III made several failed Olympic bids before the 2005 hurricane destroyed his yacht manufacturing business. He persevered, rebuilt his business, and is now sailing for gold.
John Dane III considers the improbability of his story with a suitably far-off look.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The sailor’s first Olympics might have begun today, but the journey to reach them began when he showed up to his first Olympic trials in a borrowed boat 40 years ago.
Since then, Mr. Dane has made six more failed attempts to qualify for the Olympic regatta. He has founded a multimillion-dollar yacht-making company, Trinity Yachts, and then rebuilt it almost from scratch after Hurricane Katrina submerged it in its 13-foot floodwaters. And last month he turned 58, making him the oldest Olympian in Beijing save a Canadian equestrian.
“It is a testament to hard work and a never-give-up-attitude,” says Dane in his best attempt at retrospection.
In truth, he seems to have little interest in weaving his story into the kind of mythology that fuels the Olympics. It is true that he gave half a million dollars of his own money to his employees to help them rebuild their lives after Katrina. But he would much rather talk of the time in the Bahamas that his Olympic crew member and son-in-law, Austin Sperry, was duct-taped to a tree.
Apparently, seven thousand miles is not nearly enough to take the South out of the sailor. Sitting at the breakfast buffet of his hotel in Qingdao several weeks before the Olympics began, Dane flirted good-naturedly with platinum-haired Scandinavian sailors at a nearby table. Laughing, he recalled his words to Mr. Sperry when he first sensed his future son-in-law was partial to his eldest daughter: “This is Mississippi, son. I’ve got a shotgun and a shovel, and you won’t be missed.”
Yet even at breakfast, where the congeniality of his Southern drawl seemed like an audible slap on the back, there was evidence of another John Dane: the CEO and Olympian.
Around him sat coaches and training partners. Some help him with his fitness – 80 minutes of aerobics and weight training daily for a man as sturdy as oak. Others hone his tactics. One even rammed Dane, punching a hole in the side of his star-class boat during a particularly intense training session.
Before this Olympic quadrennial, Dane had not done so much as hired a coach. “This is the most concerted effort I have ever made,” he says. “It’s my last chance.”
In that respect, he adds, his age and experience have been helpful. “I run a business,” he says, “so I understand the planning that goes into a major effort.”
There could be few bigger efforts than recovering from Katrina. “For two to three days after [the hurricane], we didn’t even know if the other was alive,” says Wayne Bourgeois, Dane’s business partner of more than 30 years and cofounder of Trinity Yachts.