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'Super woman' Emily Nagel inspires students with sailing success

Oakham School was thrilled to welcome back Old Oakhamian and Volvo Ocean Race veteran, Emily Nagel, to speak to students, staff and members of the local sailing community.

Emily spoke with passion and refreshing honesty. She shared her experience of achieving her ‘childhood dream’ of winning a much sought after place on one of just seven participating teams (Team AkzoNobel). She also outlined, in detail, the nine physically gruelling and emotionally draining months she spent taking part in this renowned and revered race, which covers 45,000 miles and is often described as one of the most extreme sporting events in the world.

Emily described in vivid detail the ‘highs’ of seeing the beauty of the world first hand, crossing the equator four times and setting a new World Record (for the furthest distance travelled by a yacht in any 24-hour period ever), and the ‘lows’ of having to endure cramped living conditions, eating only freeze-dried food, constantly moving kit around to correctly weight the boat, and catching only two consecutive hours of sleep a day.

She inspired students with the key message of “dealing with what you can, never giving up, and coming up with crazy innovative solutions” – which she certainly lived up to during the Race. Not only did she help to repair a broken main sail, mid race, she also carried on despite encountering a serious injury (a damaged nerve in her back and a dislocated shoulder), which she just “sucked up and carried on sailing”. Emily also talked, with candour, about the mental challenge she faced during her time on board. “Having always struggled with an anxiety disorder, the race forced me to address this – as there is no time for a panic attack in the Southern Ocean.” She taught herself how to control her anxieties – which she described as a “mental mountain”.

Another message she imparted during her talk was the prevalence of plastic in the oceans and on beaches around the world. Part of her team’s work was to ‘turn the tide on plastic’ and, as well as taking part in beach clean ups in between each leg of the Race, they also took 75 water samples en-route. With only three of these samples not containing micro plastic, she really impressed upon the audience that everyone needs to do much more to reduce their plastic consumption. 

As well as describing her experience as a ‘rookie’ (which meant she spent a lot of time undertaking the “not so fun jobs” such as grinding for hours at a time), she also outlined what it was like to be part of the first Volvo Ocean Race that included women on all boats. In his introduction, Nick Neve, Head of Sailing at Oakham School, described Emily as ‘Super Woman’. Given the challenges she’s overcome to win her place on this amazing race (notably those of her incredibly young age and her sex), along with the battle to train her body and mind to endure taking part, ‘Super woman’ could not be a more apt description. 

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