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Sailors juggle travel, training, fundraising to make Olympic dream possible

They say it takes more than just skill and athleticism to get to the Olympics — and that's certainly true for sailors Erin Rafuse and Danielle Boyd.

Erin Rafuse, Danielle Boyd get fundraising boost from members of the Tragically Hip

Erin Rafuse and Danielle Boyd out for an evening sail in Miami during the 2016 World Cup. The pair recently raised $80,000 to make their Rio Olympics dream come true — with help from a couple of members of the Tragically Hip. (Team Rafuse Boyd)

They say it takes more than just skill and athleticism to get to the Olympics: it takes support from friends, family, and a lot of money.

That's even more true for Olympians whose chosen sport is both new to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games and kind of obscure. Just ask sailors — and first-time Olympians — Danielle Boyd and Erin Rafuse. 

Boyd, from Kingston, Ont., and Rafuse, from Halifax, will head to Rio this summer, sailing in a newly recognized Olympic class called 49erFX.

"Our sport is probably one of the most expensive, unfortunately," said Boyd. "A lot of our costs go towards equipment, backup equipment, accommodation, coaching, fees when we need [to pay] them. And flights, travel, food ... pretty much anything you can think of. But the largest cost is definitely equipment and travel."

Speaking of equipment and travel: Maple, the boat they'll be competing with in Rio, is already in Brazil.

It was shipped there at a cost of about $2,500, said Boyd. On Friday, the pair headed to Rio to set it up for training, where it will remain until the Games get underway.

The boat itself and the sails cost about $40,000, she said. They're required to have three boats.  

Danielle Boyd, left, and Erin Rafuse, right, sailing for Canada at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. (Will Ricketson/U.S. Sailing)

Tragically Hip help with fundraising

The team had a goal to raise $82,000 — or $10 per kilometre to Rio — and they just about reached it Thursday night at an auction fundraiser at the Kingston Yacht Club, where Boyd got her start in the sport. 

Their website marks their progress with a donation tracker and includes videos that illustrate the daily work that goes into Olympic-level sailing.

Among the items on offer at the auction was a pair of tickets to the final show of the Tragically Hip's farewell tour on Aug. 20 at the K-Rock Centre in Kingston. The tickets were donated by band member Gord Sinclair — a family friend of the Boyds — who performed at the fundraiser with his side project The Taxi Dancers, alongside Hip bandmate Rob Baker.

The Tragically Hip's Gord Sinclair, left, performs at a fundraiser for sailors Danielle Boyd and Erin Rafuse with his side project The Taxi Dancers. Fellow Hip guitarist Rob Baker, far right, partially obscured, also performed. (Mary Leduc )

"I went to [elementary] school with Colin Sinclair, Gord's son, and we became quite good friends at a young age. And our parents just stayed in touch over the years," said Boyd. 

"So we just asked. And this is before they even announced their final tour. And Gord agreed completely and was like, 'I'll bring Robbie Baker as well,'" she said.

With their Olympic fundraising goal now reached, the pair say they can place more time and energy on these crucial training days leading up to the Rio Games.

Solo to tandem

The pair come from different sailing backgrounds: Rafuse spent most of her development sailing solo, while Boyd mostly sailed in tandem. After spending more than three years together as a team, however, they say they've gotten so close that they can practically read each other's minds. 

Olympians Erin Rafuse and Danielle Boyd in Rio for training in 2015. (Team Rafuse Boyd)

"When we're sailing, and it's windy sometimes, we can't even hear each other. So we've definitely developed quite a strict script and dialogue for situations and what we're trying to execute at the time," said Boyd.

"I remember in the beginning sometimes [Erin] just might not say the same things that she was thinking because she would just assume that I would do it," she added. "So that's one thing we've worked on. And it's come a long way, and we're doing a lot better with that, and it's made a huge improvement in our sailing overall."

Rafuse and Boyd's website features a donation tracker which marks the fundraising progress with a sailboat heading to Rio. (Team Rafuse Boyd)

"We live together 24-7 so it can get a bit intense at times, said Rafuse. "But we know how to work around each other and put it all together."

Rafuse and Boyd both draw on their psychology degrees to get into each other's heads, with Rafuse earning her degree at Carleton University in 2012.

Boyd's degree, in psychology and English, is from Dalhousie University. She said she also draws on the English degree to help her cope with the demands of living an Olympian's life.

"I tend to live in a little bit of a fantasy land while we're going around, so when I need to be happy I think of... my favourite books and... what those heroes always learn," said Boyd.

"I'm a big Game of Thrones fan, so I'll mostly go with, 'OK, my life isn't as hard as how Arya Stark is doing right now.'"

Danielle Boyd, left, and Erin Rafuse, right, will be heading to the Rio Games this summer to compete in the new 49erFX sailing event. (Mary Leduc)

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