It's never too late

Senior Instructor, Margaret Norris says age is no barrier to sport, to sailing or to teaching

Margaret Norris discovered a second career when she became an RYA Dinghy Instructor at 50 and a RYA Senior Instructor at 55, later scooping RYA Senior Instructor of the year at 60. Here's her inspiring story... 

Name: Margaret Norris Age: 70

Role: RYA Senior Instructor at Hengistbury Head Outdoor Activity Centre, Christchurch

How did you discover sailing?

I was working as a lab technician, but I also did lots of voluntary work. I helped one of the local schools on a Wednesday afternoon with their sports class by driving the minibus to their dinghy training session. When we got there, the teacher pulled over a Topper sail boat and said, ‘In you get’.

How did you feel about that?

I froze. It was at a time in my life when things had fallen apart. I was leaving work through stress. I found I had taken on more and more in my role and hadn’t realised how much it was impacting my life. My marriage had ended and my confidence was rock bottom. I looked at the boat and thought ‘I’ll never cope with this.’ But I had no choice but to get in. Somehow circumstances came together that day and I discovered it was great fun. It was the start of something special.

Was sailing something you had ever considered?

No, sailing had never been on my radar and I think if I hadn’t been forced into the boat that day I never would have even known about it – there’s a lot more to be done to tell people how much fun it is and how accessible it is too.

What has it brought to your life?

Finding sailing has made me the person I am today. At 42 I came to it late in life and worked my way through the RYA Dinghy courses, which were fantastic building blocks to my second career. When I was training to be an Instructor I was with lots of youngsters straight out of college. It was the hardest week, mentally and physically challenging and I nearly gave up. But my husband said I’d be so disappointed in myself if I didn’t stick it out until the end. So I did and I passed!

I began doing lots and lots of voluntary work at a centre and club which allowed me to enjoy sailing for sailing’s sake. I didn’t have the responsibility of teaching but I was learning all the time and this helped me take the leap to become an instructor. I trained with a lot of the young talented instructors who had been catapulted straight into the role from school. They were brilliant at sailing but I found that my life experience got me through – after all, verbalising is a very different skill.

What have you got personally and professionally from your role?

It changed me as a person. It’s made me the person I am today and I am so lucky to be in a position to see that happen for others too when they come to our centre to learn – extraordinary things happen to ordinary people when they discover sailing. It gives people so much confidence.

Who are you teaching at the moment?

I’m privately teaching an 80 year old – he’s fantastic – he’s just done his RYA Dinghy Level 1, 2 and now 3.

Is age a barrier to sailing and to teaching?

Age is never a barrier, it’s just a physical state. As long as you can move across the boat there’s no reason why you can’t learn how to sail. I think it’s the most amazing thing to do and I’m still learning.

What training can people do if they want to learn to sail?

RYA Training is fantastic because once you get in at the bottom level you can learn in building blocks and keep going. The possibilities are endless.