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Marla Menninger, Yale Sailing Captain: Featured Female College Athlete

Meet Marla Menninger, the 2009 Women’s National Champion in collegiate sailing and senior captain of the Yale University sailing team – the Fowle Champions – the best all-around sailing team in the nation. Braving the elements daily (New England weather can be unforgiving) and proudly leading the nation’s best college sailors, Marla is an athlete who is truly “hardcore.” Sailing, though an Olympic sport and internationally-respected, is often overlooked by the biggest college sports fans. Marla catches up with Her Campus to prove why this should change.

Her Campus: A basic rundown of college sailing and how it all works….

Marla: College Sailing is a fall and spring sport. We go from September to November and then from the end of February to nationals in June. We compete every weekend against around 18 teams from around the country. We travel to different colleges’ sailing sites and they provide the boats. There are a variety of events each weekend. Usually there is a top tier coed varsity regatta, a women’s regatta, and then some 2nd tier regattas. How the competitions work: There is an A and B fleet (the boats are two-person boats). A goes out and sails two races and then comes in and rotates with B who goes out and sails two races. The final team score is the combination of A and B’s scores. Sometimes if the school has enough boats, A and B will both be out on the water the whole time.

HC: What do you love most about sailing?

Marla: Everything! I love being out on the water, traveling all over to different places, competing. I also love sailing with another person, really getting to know them and working together.

HC: College sailing vs. open racing?

Marla (in picture at right): College sailing is really different from open water Olympic-style racing. College racing features short courses. Open water racing boats are higher performance generally; the races are really long (around an hour, whereas college races are about 20 minutes). In college you sail boats provided by the school, and you switch boats every two races so that everyone sails every boat and no one has any advantage if one boat is for some reason better than another. In Olympic style racing you have your own boat and work a lot to try and make it as fast as possible.

HC: What is your typical Saturday night like? Typical Monday night?

Marla: My typical Saturday is usually spent at a regatta. We end sailing on Saturdays usually around 5:00. Then we’ll grab dinner, and have a mellow night, gearing up for sailing the next day. I usually try to do some schoolwork, but usually fail and just go to bed early. If we’re sailing over an hour away, we stay with people’s families from the team who live in the area. Monday nights are usually the nights I do most of my work. Wednesdays and Thursdays are the days we usually go out because we can’t go out on the weekends.

HC: Do you go to the gym? What is your usual gym routine?

Marla: Yes. I like to run and do yoga. I also do some strength training. For this past nationals I had to gain muscle because it was going to be a really windy and therefore really physically demanding event, so I did a lot of strength training. But now I do mostly running and yoga.

HC: How do you keep a happy boat – managing the relationship between skipper and crew?

Marla: The two people in the boat are the skipper and crew. The skipper is the one who drives the boat and controls the main sail. The crew controls the smaller sail, the jib, and balances the boat. The two people work together shifting their weight, responding to the conditions, and planning. Communication is key. You spend so much time together that you become really close. I had an amazing time sailing with the girl I sailed with the past two years!

HC: Congratulations on winning the 2009 National Championship! Can you please tell us all about this experience?

Marla: Thank you! Nationals this past year was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had. I sailed with my partner, Jane Macky, who I sailed with the past two years. Nationals are held each year at the end of the spring season and were held this year in San Francisco hosted by Stanford at St. Francis Yacht Club. Nationals are the ultimate goal. We worked really hard all fall and spring with Nationals in mind. San Francisco is typically a really windy venue, so we worked extra hard to get in peak shape. Throughout the year we were really competitive. We won the qualifier for Nationals, besting the top teams in New England. We then went on to Nationals where we raced the other top 18 teams in the nation. It was really windy each day of the event, which made for an extremely physically demanding event. We were winning after the first day, and went into the last day of racing eager to come out on top. ODU and Charleston were close behind, and going into the last two races we were behind ODU enough that it didn’t seem like we had a chance to win. Jane and I won our first race. After the race we looked to see where Charleston and ODU had finished and saw ODU finishing last. We had a chance to win! Jane and I were excited going into our last race. We finished first and ODU had another bad race! We won!! Jane and I won A division; we won the regatta overall; Jane and I were named All-American; and Jane won the 2009 Quantum Women’s College Sailor of the Year! After Women’s Nationals, we transitioned into Team Racing Nationals where we placed 4th, and then Coed Nationals, where we placed 2nd. While I mostly sailed on the women’s team the past two years, I also sailed some coed events. I sailed team racing and A division at Coed Nationals, where we placed 1st! Our team won the Fowle Trophy for being the best all-around team in the nation.

HR: Who is the Yale sailing team’s biggest rival?

Marla: This year for Coed our biggest competition will be Georgetown. St. Mary’s College of Maryland and Brown will also be really competitive. For Women’s, Brown, ODU, and St. Mary’s, and Harvard will be tough competition.

HC: What is the biggest challenge that sailing poses on your college lifestyle and experience?

Marla: Time management. Sailing takes up an exorbitant amount of time, and it’s tough to balance school, sailing, seeing friends outside the team.

HC: How does one get involved in sailing? Is it ever too late to learn? What would you recommend for girls interested in sailing?

Marla: We actually are a club and varsity team but function as one team. Every year we have a mix of recruits and walk-ons join the team. Some of the walk-ons have never sailed before. We actively recruit on campus and encourage anyone who wants to learn to come out and join the team. Walk-ons are an integral part of the team. A lot of them learn really quickly and start competing in regattas. Because there are different levels of regattas, people of different levels of experience and talent can compete. I would absolutely recommend sailing to anyone. It’s great to be out on the water and learning something new.

HC: What are your plans for the future both in sailing and professionally?

Marla: I’m not sure right now. I’m planning on transitioning to the real world next year, but I hope to always have sailing be a part of my life. Right now I do some team racing, which is outside college sailing, and I plan to keep doing that after graduation. I’m at the Team Race National Championship right now! For next year, I hope to get a job in consulting or PR and I’d ideally be in New York, but we’ll see!

Marla Menninger, Yale University:

  • Captain of Women’s Sailing Team 2009
  • Commodore of Sailing Team 2008
  • Intercollegiate Sailing Association All American 2008, 2009
  • Women’s All New England Team 2007, 2008, 2009
  • Women’s National Champions 2009
  • 1st place in A division at Women’s National Championship 2008, 2009 (1st place overall in 2009, 3rd in 2008)
  • 1st place in A division at Coed National Championship 2009 (2nd place overall)
  • 2nd place Coed National Championship 2009
  • 4th place Team Race National Championship 2009
  • Fowle Trophy Winners 2009 (awarded to the best all-around team in the country)

Find out more about Marla: http://www.yalebulldogs.com/sports/w-sail/2009-10/bios/menninger_marla

A self-proclaimed sports fanatic, Hilary May, Harvard class of 2011, is a History Concentrator native of Newport Beach, CA. Hilary is a member of the varsity track and cross-country teams for the Harvard Crimson, specializing in the middle distances. After a sensational internship at ESPN last summer, she hopes for a career in on-air TV sports broadcasting. At HerCampus Magazine, Hilary wants to shed light on the athletic world to both jocks and gym-goers alike. When she isn't training, studying, or cheering on the Crimson, Hilary enjoys surfing, stand-up paddling, going to the beach, and eating Mexican food.