Erika Reineke’s first memory on the water is of her eight-year-old self learning to sail in Fort Lauderdale by following the best sailors around on the water. Now, with four consecutive National Singlehanded Sailing Championships under her belt, she’s no stranger to being the fastest in the water. That same relentless drive to improve still burns within the senior, feeding a desire that has been at the front of her mind since age 12: to compete in the Olympics.
Like most Division I athletes, Reineke hasn’t exactly had the “normal college experience” here at Boston College. While her classmates fill their hours of free time with a laundry list of clubs and activities, she spends her time outside of class training, conditioning, sailing, and driving back and forth between campus and the water. But, she doesn’t begrudge “always having to practice and be disciplined, and knowing [her] actions reflect the team and the program.” For someone as committed as Reineke, it’s simple: “That’s just something that comes with being an athlete here.”
“We don’t get to see every football game or every hockey game, but it’s fun to know the other athletes because it actually makes the game more entertaining,” she explains. “I’ll see tweets and be like, ‘Oh my gosh! I know that person who scored, I see him in the gym!’ I love that part of being the athletic program.”
From the start, Reineke’s experience with BC Sailing has been shaped by those she looks up to, like those girls she tailed on the water in Florida. Her first visit to Chestnut Hill her junior year of high school made her fall in love with Boston College—it was then that she decided she wanted to be an Eagle. Knowing Annie Haeger, now an Olympian who recently competed in Rio as a member of the USA Olympic team, suited up for BC’s sailing team at the time of Reineke’s recruiting process certainly did not hurt. Since then, her time here has been strongly shaped by her teammates and coaching staff. She goes as far as to assert that the people she’s worked with here at BC have helped her become a better person overall.
Reineke has to hesitate when asked who has had the greatest influence on her in the past four years. “Can I say two?” she laughs. “I can’t choose just one, it’s too hard.”
The first person she cites is Beth Barnard, a 2015 graduate who came to Boston College as a soccer player and went on to captain the sailing team for two years. “She crewed for me a bunch,” says Reineke. “I think her not being a sailor, just having a whole sports vision, pushed me to approach things positively and shake off bad races.” She chuckles almost in disbelief as she remembers Barnard and her impact. “Her work ethic just blew my mind—I just strive to work like her now.”
Reineke’s other mentor here on the Heights was and is, understandably, her head coach, Greg Wilkinson. “I would say that before I came to BC I wasn’t a structured person,” she grins. “I was very free-spirited, but he got on me about being organized and disciplined and how that can help me excel in the sport.” She’s quick to clarify: “Not that that free spirited person has gone away—it’s just more together now.”
She may be free-spirited, but at her core Erika Reineke has a one track mind. Ever since she started winning races so many years, she’s shared a dream with thousands of kids around the nation: to represent Team USA in the Olympics. But unlike most people who fantasize about competing in the red, white, and blue at the highest level, for Reineke, who is indisputably the best collegiate sailor in the country at the moment, it’s more than just a pipe dream. After falling just short of her goal in the selection for the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, her ambition and drive have only heightened. After all, “2020 was always the goal.”
Reineke took what would have been her senior year off to focus on training and preparing for the 2016 Olympics, but has now returned to complete her degree in environmental geoscience and graduate this spring. “The real objective for the 2016 campaign was to learn about the experience. I was definitely a competitor in trying to make the team, but, overall, the goal was 2020,” she explains. “Being younger (21 at the trials) makes it tougher. Most of the other people are a little older, but I think it’s great to have role models and people to look up to who have been doing the sport for way longer.”
Despite all of the national attention, school was never far from her mind. “I was definitely always coming back to BC,” she says, as if the notion of leaving was ludicrous. “I don’t regret taking last year off at all. Obviously it wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but I learned so much and I’m definitely still as determined as before, if not more. What happened last year doesn’t change much about what I want in the future.”
After finding out she hadn’t made the final roster for Rio, Reineke didn’t pause her career to dwell on her disappointment for even a moment. Just months later, she placed in the top 10 at the World Laser Radial Women’s Championship and snagged her fourth first-place finish at the Collegiate National Singlehanded Sailing Championships.
In coming back this year, Reineke headed into her last season as an Eagle noticeably different than when she arrived in Chestnut Hill, and she’s the first to admit it. Reineke attributes her development as a person, not just as a sailor, to her last four years as a part of BC Sailing. “I started off only looking to better myself, but now I know that it’s more about bettering the team as a whole. That’s the only way we can all win.”
Despite her staggering personal success, Reineke’s fondest memories as an Eagle are all spent with her team. “I can’t choose just one favorite moment at BC... There’s so many! But they’re all just with the team, hanging out.” Her face lights up as she tells stories about her teammates—team Thanksgivings, spending every waking moment together, becoming a family, playing soccer together while training over spring break. “I shouldn’t say this,” she whispers. “Everyone gets way too competitive. They all have their sailing game faces on just for a game of pickup soccer!”
Outside of the water, Reineke shows her strength as a team player now more than ever. “I’m a lot stronger now, and I think a lot of that is feeling able to rely on my team and my coaches more,” she confesses.
If she could give her freshman-self any piece of advice, Reineke would advise herself to seek help from her teammates more often. “Boston College alumni are amazing. There’s been world champs, Olympic sailors… I almost feel like I wasted my freshman year by not reaching out. I was just too shy.”
Now, half a decade later, that shy, meager freshman seems like a distant memory. Reineke herself has become to the younger sailors on the team what she has they type of person she treasured most during her time here—a role model. Everything she says points her own success back to the success of the team, proving her humility and commitment to her teammates. “I do still want to be the best, yeah. But it’s not all about me.” And she’s proven time and time again that she is the best without ever losing sight of the people who helped her along the way.
Among these all-important supporters, of course, is her family back in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Reineke laughs as she talks about her parents’ relationship with sailing. “They still know almost nothing about it. They’re super supportive, though.” In fact, without her parents making her eight-year-old self go to sailing lessons, even though she initially hated the sport, Reineke wouldn’t be anywhere near where she is today.
“They’ve been with me through all the ups and downs, and I’ve always been able to lean on them, especially after losing Olympic trials. I think they’re sad I went so far away for college, though,” Reineke grins. “I get a lot of phone calls and care packages.”
For Erika Reineke, Boston College has been an integral chapter in her lifelong story of determination that continues to be written each day. After she graduates in May 2017, she will embark on rigorous training program to help her achieve her ultimate goal of sailing in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
To some, years of doing one thing day in and day out could get boring. But for Reineke, the repetition adds to the beauty of it all. After years of sailing, she has perfected her game-day routine. A morning run to wake up, usually while listening to songs from old Disney classics like The Lion King or Lilo and Stitch. Then, before the chaos of the race starts, she takes the time to go out on the water to take in the environment. Those are the moments, she declares, that keep her coming back to the sport.
“I love being out on the water, where nothing else really matters,” says Reineke. “You launch the boat, take it in for a couple of minutes. I get to realize how beautiful it is every time I go out there. Not many people get that.”