Rory, who is from Whitehead and a junior member of County Antrim Yacht Club, is the only sailor from Northern Ireland to be chosen to receive his very own boat. He will have exclusive use of the boat for the next two years through the on-going partnership between the John Merricks Sailing Trust (JMST) and RYA OnBoard.
A Carrickfergus Grammar School pupil, Rory, like many young children, has had a difficult year after being isolated from his friends. However, he is now finishing 2020 on a high as he plans to turn his dreams of sailing in national competitions into a reality.
The delighted young sailor said: “I felt over the moon when I found out I had been awarded the boat, I asked my Mum and Dad to pinch me to see if I was dreaming. I must have jumped five feet in the air!
“I feel really proud that the selection team must have had belief in my ability and have recognised the dedication I have shown to the sport that I love. I can't wait to sail it and to compete and train, and to give it 100 per cent every time I am on the water.”
Rory’s love for sailing has been inspired by his dad Gavin, an accomplished sailor. “Sailing has always been in my blood,” Rory says.
“I first got on a boat when I was two and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t sail or was not by the water. As soon as I started to sail when I was six, I knew it was what I wanted to do. Ever since then, when I am not doing my school work, I am researching sailing and reading about different sailors and world races.”
During lockdown, Rory had been feeling isolated but it was sailing that got him through. His mum, Claire Pollard, comments: “It was Rory’s last year of primary school and the loss of completing those important months before transferring to post primary was worrying.
“However, it was his love of sailing and the need to get out on the water that he missed the most. As soon as he was able to, he was out sailing, for up to five days a week. As a parent, the improvement I instantly saw in his emotional health was amazing.”
Up until now Rory has been sailing and competing in a borrowed club boat.
Claire says: “Without the support of County Antrim Yacht Club, Rory would not be able to attend and complete in the races he has done to date. The encouragement, support and training he has received has driven him on to always want to progress and achieve his best.
Rory has recently been selected for the RYA Northern Ireland Topper Performance Programme. He hopes to put the new boat to good use as part of his training. He explains: “I have recently been selected to the RYANI Topper Performance Programme and I hope to use this to tune my skills into championship level.
“As we have not been out on the water yet, I have started my own winter training programme to make sure my fitness levels are at their best when we get back on the water. I know the pressure will be on as I will be sailing a brand new boat, but I can’t wait to show the coaches my ability!“
He adds: “I’d like to thank the John Merricks Sailing Trust and the RYA for giving me this opportunity along with all the people who have encouraged and supported me along the way.
“I am hoping over the next while to be able to showcase my skills and attract sponsorship so that I can compete in the bigger events while I have the boat. I also hope to encourage younger sailors at my club and show them that if they are dedicated and train hard, they could also be in the same position as me and have the honour of sailing a JMST boat.”
RYA Northern Ireland’s Performance Manager, Andrew Baker, said: “It is fantastic that Rory has been awarded this boat, it will be a great benefit to his training for the Topper Squad and we look forward to watching his progress.
“Getting enthusiastic young sailors access to boats and helping give them time on the water is what this award is all about and Rory is a shining example of a passionate and dedicated young sailor who fully deserves this award.”
Sheela Lewis, Race Coach and Training Officer on behalf of the Sailing Committee at County Antrim Yacht Club, said: “County Antrim Yacht Club is delighted with this outcome. Several of our membership have been previous recipients of JMST dinghies. Following the ethos of the RYA and JMST, we have progressed our Pathway race coaching by reassigning JMST dinghies to worthy Club members.
“Rory had the benefit of this which has supported his development to date. As a small club we would not have been in a position to purchase new Toppers to facilitate those members who show the potential and talent that Rory has displayed to date. We share Rory’s excitement with regard to this award and we will be supporting Rory to achieve all of his goals and more!”