Teenage student athlete sets sail for Texas World Champs

Matilda Nicholls
Matilda Nicholls in action at the 2018 RYA Youth Nationals (Credit: RYA/Marc Turner)

Sailing sensation Matilda Nicholls is in the form of her young career having qualified to represent Great Britain at the IASF Youth World Championships in Texas in July.

The talented teenager was selected following an impressive performance this month at the RYA Youth Laser Radial Championships in Largs, Scotland where she took the U19 title.

“It was pretty exciting to win as last year I missed out by one point. It was my goal over the winter to aim towards this competition, so I was over the moon that I did it,” she said.

And Nicholls should be brimming with confidence having sailed against U21 athletes at the Championships, eventually placing fourth overall, just behind her elder competitors.

“To come top girl and make the Youth Worlds feels really good as it shows that all the work and effort that I’ve put in to sailing and fitness in the last three years is paying off.”

“I’d love a top five place in Worlds so hopefully I can go out and make that happen against some strong competition. There’s an American girl who’s a very, very good sailor and has obviously been training in the States.”

Having grown up in Bermuda, it seems inevitable that the 16-year-old student would become a successful sailor, not least when she can credit five-time Olympic medallist Ben Ainslie as a family friend.

“He’s of course an incredible sailor and when I was younger we were extremely lucky to be able to sail with him sometimes. He really made an effort to see us,” she said.

The Southampton-based athlete, who was recently named RYA South Region Youth Champion 2018, is not only focusing on fast-tracking her sailing career, but also concentrating on her all-important A level qualifications.

Fortunately, since last September Nicholls has been benefitting from TASS support at University of Southampton to help her balance the demands of sport and study, linking in with twice-weekly fitness training at Portsmouth University.

“My tactic is to try to get the work done as soon as I get it. With my TASS lifestyle practitioner, we looked at planning against the high points of sailing and the high points of the school year,” she reveals.

“Also the strength and conditioning has been really great. I never had a fitness programme before and so what TASS put in place and it’s really, really paid off. We did a fitness test before Scotland and my result had almost doubled!

“In sailing, you’ve got to be as physically and mentally robust as possible, with long races and long days. When it’s windy and you’re working really hard, your fitness comes into play.

“Then mentally, it’s important to be able to make decisions as it’s a very tactical sport. It comes with practice following lots of racing, then reflecting on the race afterwards.”

Nicholls currently trains with the RYA Radial Youth Squad based in Weymouth, alongside scores of other talented sailors, as well with her local club, Royal Lymington Yacht Club.

“In winter, I train at Weymouth once every three weekends. We get up at 7am, do fitness every morning, then go sailing for about five hours, and catch up in the evening about sailing tactics,” she said.

“I’m currently doing my Duke of Edinburgh Award as well and I’m really enjoying the volunteering part as I’m teaching reception kids how to read – it’s such a nice thing to do.

“After my A levels, I’d like to take a gap year and then go to university. I’m definitely hoping to continue sailing through my time at uni and one day get to the Olympics.”