When Mary Hesler took up sailing with the Lake Norman Yacht Club’s youth program, little did she know it would take her places.
Hesler, now a 28-year-old full lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, was part of the United States’ team during the sixth-annual World Military Games, held Oct. 2-11 in Mungyeong, South Korea.
Hesler, an instructor helicopter pilot with HSC-3 “Merlins” stationed at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, Calif., was one of four active-duty military personnel on the U.S. sailing team.
Partnered with Lt. Sean Kelley of the U.S. Coast Guard, Hesler finished 11th in the co-ed two-handed sailing competition. Team U.S.A.’s women’s two-handed team, composed of U.S. Navy Ens. Mary Hall and Lt. Trisha Kutkiewicz, won the gold medal, one of two won by the U.S. during the Games.
“We were pretty happy about that,” Hesler said. “I’ve never competed internationally before. The others had competed before, but a lot of the other guys were trying to get their names out there to compete in the Olympics for their countries. All of us have day jobs in the U.S. military, but we were still pretty proud of ourselves.”
This year’s World Military Games, which were first held in 1995 in Rome, Italy, and are similar to the quadrennial Olympic Games, drew more than 8,700 military personnel from 110 countries competing in 24 sports, including sailing.
Hesler had wanted to compete in the annual world military sailing championships held by International Military Sports Council, but her military commitments kept her from doing so.
“I’ve always wanted to do it,” Hesler said. “Trisha, one of my friends and one of the other girls on the team, had done it the past three years, but I was on sea duty (with HSC-6 “Indians” on the USS Nimitz) and couldn’t get away.
“But this year, I was on shore duty and was able to take the time off and go. I thought it’d be really neat to represent my country, compete internationally, get to see some other cultures and meet some of the other sailors.”
First, Hesler had to apply for a position on the U.S. team. That’s where her sailing experience came into play.
In addition to her time competing in junior-level events with the LNYC while she was a student at Charlotte Catholic, Hesler was also a member of the U.S. Naval Academy’s sailing team for 2 1/ years.
After graduating from Annapolis in 2009 and being stationed in San Diego after getting her aviator’s wings two years later, she bought a couple sailboats – an Ultimate 20, a popular sailboat on Lake Norman, and a Laser – and joined the Mission Bay Yacht Club.
“I try to make it out a couple times a month, when my schedule permits,” Hesler said.
Once she was selected to the team and made the trip to South Korea, Hesler and her teammates had another challenge, getting used to a new class of sailboat.
“We were sailing in RS 2000s, which are primarily used in Europe,” Hesler said. “We tried finding some over here to practice on, but we couldn’t find any. They’re little two-person dinghies. They’re pretty close to 420s, which we sailed at college, and Lake Norman has them as well. But these have a spinnaker.
“They were brand-new boats as well. I’ve never sailed on a brand-new boat before. But the company’s (technical representative) came over and helped us get it set up.”
Now that Hesler has one World Military Games under her belt, she can’t wait for the next one, scheduled for 2019 in Wuhan, China, or the annual sailing championships, which will be held in Pakistan next year.
“The competition was great,” Hesler said. “I also made some pretty good friends. I want to go again and see these guys again next year.”
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.