For an example of how the love of a sport can lead kids to future success, look no further than College of Charleston senior sailor, Clerc Cooper.
Cooper, an All-American honorable mention in 2014, is one of five Charleston sailors heading to the ICSA Singlehanded National Championships in Bellingham, Wash. on Nov. 8-9, but she took somewhat of a different route to find her big success.
A native of New Orleans, La., Cooper began her sailing career at the historic Southern Yacht Club on Lake Pontchartrain, noted for being the second oldest yacht club in the country and developing top-notch sailors.
“We have an awesome junior program, which begins when you are seven or eight. Both of my parents sailed, so the natural progression was that they wanted me to sail too, so they started having me take lessons at the yacht club, which led to me making friends and getting more involved in the summer sailing camps,” Cooper said.
The program that Cooper was sailing in was designed to end at age fifteen, when kids age out of the Optimist sailboat. However, Cooper never finished the program due to the impact of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The widespread damage from the storm in the New Orleans area was well documented, and unfortunately for the sailing community- both locally and nationally, the Southern Yacht Club succumbed to a devastating, unattended fire.
“Katrina interrupted the sailing program for me. At that juncture, I hadn’t been too successful in the sailing program. I wasn’t enjoying it because I wasn’t successful, so at that point, I turned to having a more fun sailing career. I went to Cape Cod, Mass. sea camps and once I got there my natural inclination turned back to the competitive side of sailing, and I think that break is what kept me in the sport, ” she said.
Once she got back to competitive sailing, Cooper began to find success in the doublehanded Club 420 sailboat. She was her region’s qualifier to the 2011 U.S. Junior Doublehanded Championship for the Bemis Trophy and also competed in the U.S. Junior Women’s Doublehanded Championship for the Ida Lewis Trophy.
“Since my yacht club didn’t really have a good program for older sailors, my mom took on the role of organizing clinics for the entire Gulf Coast area and she would fly in coaches. I did the regattas that I could, but due to my geographic area, there weren’t that many that were within reason to do, so I think I came into college a little behind because of my geographic disadvantage,” she said.
Cooper nearly overlooked Charleston as an option for college because she had been to the school twice for junior sailing clinics.
“I came to Charleston for clinics once after eighth grade and again after ninth grade. We stayed in Berry dorm and ate at Liberty Company everyday and I had so much fun doing that, which almost made me pass over the College of Charleston because I had kind of been there and done that,” she commented.
After only applying to two schools with sailing teams, Cooper eventually made her way back around to Charleston, thanks to a former graduate of the College who pushed her to apply to Charleston. After applying, she was offered an interview for entry into the prestigious William Aiken Fellows Society scholar program within the honors college, and once she was accepted to the program, she immediately knew Charleston was where she was supposed to go to school.
Once at Charleston, she developed into one of the best women’s skippers on the nationally-renowned sailing team, which she attributes much to her time in the boat with her crew and 2014 College graduate, Elizabeth Chambers.
“I had such luck, and a gift really, in that on my first day of practice, the coaches paired me with Elizabeth and she and I just worked the same way, both academically and goal-setting wise. We approach problems the same way, and aside from her being a phenomenal crew, if something went wrong on the race course, we would deal with it very similarly. It was so helpful to have someone like her in the boat with me as my crew, the chemistry was spot-on” she said.
With Chambers as her crew, they developed together, eventually being chosen to sail B-division in the 2013 ICSA Women’s Doublehanded National Championship during Cooper’s sophomore year, finishing fourth overall in B-division.
“Being chosen to sail in women’s nationals during my sophomore year was really my best moment ever, we had been fighting for that B-division spot all year and realizing that we got it and we earned it, it was so cool. We obviously ended up doing really well, so it’s still my pinnacle regatta,” she said.
Cooper would go onto qualify for the Women’s Singlehanded National Championship for the first time in the fall of 2013 and was once again selected to sail in the Women’s Doublehanded National Championship in 2014, this time as the A-division skipper.
Currently, Cooper is in training mode for November’s singlehanded nationals, where she says she will use her experience from 2013 to help her improve her results. The singlehanded nationals, sailed in the Laser, is a physically demanding championship, as sailors need to be able to use their muscle- especially in their core and legs- for optimal speed.
“I think it’s going to be all about feeling comfortable in the boat this year. I sailed Lasers a little bit in high school, but quickly cast those aside for the 420, so when I came to college, I told the coaches I could sail Lasers. When I qualified for nationals last fall, I almost thought it was a fluke because I really didn’t see myself as a Laser sailor. I’ve really always been a doublehanded 420 sailor. Now that I have gotten more used to the Laser, as I’ve trained for this year, I have learned a lot about the boat, especially from my teammates, some of which are excellent Laser sailors,” she said.
With experience on her side, Cooper is poised to have a much better championship this time around, and she knows her performance will affect her chances of being named a College Sailing All-American come June, something that has been her goal since day one.
“I have a lot more confidence this year. I don’t feel so much out of my element. And doing the regatta once before, I can know what to expect when I get there,” she said. “My best regatta was women’s doublehanded nationals in 2013 and I remember getting off the starting line really well, so I know what is key to doing well in a championship.”