Hugh Freund of South Freeport plans to unwind Wednesday, his last day in Rio de Janeiro, with a helicopter ride over the Brazilian coast before flying back to New England on Thursday. He’ll spend a few days in Boston and be in Maine by the weekend.

“Then it’s back to work Monday morning,” Freund said by phone Tuesday from Rio. “The fairy tale is over.”

Ah, but what a ride. In his first – and quite possibly last – Paralympics sailing competition, Freund and crewmates Rick Doerr of New Jersey and Brad Kendell of Florida won silver medals in Sonar class competition, racing 23-foot keelboats.

They entered Saturday’s 11th and final race as one of six countries with a shot at silver or bronze medals, Australia already having clinched the gold.

The United States entry held a one-point lead over Canada and a few more over Norway, Greece, New Zealand and Germany, but would lose a tiebreaker with nearly all of them.

Hugh Freund says his team of sailors "did a lot of homework and we really nailed the start" of the Paralympics Sonar class competition in Rio de Janeiro.

Hugh Freund says his team of sailors “did a lot of homework and we really nailed the start” of the Paralympics Sonar class competition in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Will Ricketson/US Sailing

“We didn’t have any wins, so we were in a tricky spot,” said Freund, a 28-year-old jib trimmer who sails without his prosthetic right foot. “We needed to make sure we weren’t even on points.”

The U.S. entry was coming off its worst performance in the six-day regatta, placing eighth and 10th on Friday. The sailors returned to port thinking they had tumbled down the standings only to discover they remained in second by the slimmest of margins over their friends and two-year training partners from Canada.

“Sailing’s a huge mental game,” Freund said. “I think we went into the final day knowing we had already messed up pretty bad the day before and somehow that took a lot of the pressure off. Everyone was calmer. That was clear right from the beginning.”

Freund, Doerr and Kendell have different levels of disabilities. An aggressive bone cancer discovered in 2007, shortly after Freund started college, resulted in amputation below his right knee. Doerr, a 56-year-old surgeon, has a spinal cord injury from a car accident that paralyzed his lower body. Kendell, 35, survived a plane crash that killed his father and a friend and resulted in above-the-knee amputation of both legs.

They have been sailing together since before the London 2012 Games, for which they narrowly missed qualifying, and in May won the World Championships. Because the International Paralympics Committee dropped sailing from the list of sports included for Tokyo 2020, Rio appears to be their last hurrah.

They made sure not to waste the opportunity.

“In the last year,” Freund said, “our coach said we’ve done something like 1,200 practice starts in training.”

Start too early and your boat is disqualified, medal hopes extinguished. Start too late and you’re stuck in the back of the fleet.

“We did a lot of homework and we really nailed the start,” Freund said. “Greece might have been first, but we were faster. We wanted the opportunity to tack first.”

Mindful of wind shifts and a strong current, Freund’s team bolted toward the front, rounded the first windward mark trailing only Great Britain among 14 sailboats and spent the rest of the 45-minute race covering any challengers. The final downwind run turned into a drag race between the U.S. and New Zealand, about a hundred yards off a beach with cheering spectators.

The one-second victory clinched silver for the United States and allowed Canada, which moved up to seventh after initially fading to 10th, to pull into a third-place tie with New Zealand. The Canadians were awarded bronze by virtue of two earlier victories to New Zealand’s one.

Hugh Freund, left, looks back toward Rio de Janeiro, as he and crewmates Rick Doerr and Brad Kendell sail their keelboat. “Sailing’s a huge mental game,” he said, noting “We were in a tricky spot.” Will Ricketson/US Sailing

Hugh Freund, left, looks back toward Rio de Janeiro as he and crewmates Rick Doerr and Brad Kendell sail their keelboat. “Sailing’s a huge mental game,” he said, noting, “We were in a tricky spot.” Will Ricketson/US Sailing

“It was wonderful to win a silver medal,” Freund said, “but it was equally as wonderful to see our friends up there with the bronze. It was a nice closure moment for two programs that have been well-aligned, not only because of convenience – we’re the only two North American teams – but because the coaches got along well and the teams got along well.”

Back at South Freeport’s Harrasseeket Yacht Club, where Freund first learned to sail, the celebration was underway. The 250-member club had helped raise money for Freund’s campaign and followed his progress through an app showing real-time boat positions.

“We’re extremely proud of him,” said Dave Kaufman, recently retired as commodore of HYC. “It’s remarkable that a small all-volunteer club from Maine had two sailors in the Olympics and Paralympics.”

The other was Yarmouth native Dave Hughes, now living in Florida, who sailed in the Men’s 470 Class last month. The only other medalist for U.S. Sailing at either Rio Games was Caleb Paine of San Diego, who won bronze in the one-man Finn class. The other two U.S. Paralympics entries placed fourth (one-person keelboat) and fifth (two-person keelboat).

As for pre-Games attention focused on pollution in Guanabara Bay and mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus, Freund said he was cautious but trusted team doctors and 3½ years of preparation for Rio.

“We spent a lot of time here acclimating ourselves, getting used to water and weather conditions,” he said. “We never had any issues at all. Everything was fine. At the end of the day, they put on a great event.”

In his free hours, Freund was able to see other sports, including Goalball, Swimming, Wheelchair Tennis and Sitting Volleyball. The experience was much different than in sailing, where crowds can be half a mile from the competitors.

“The Brazilians, they really know how to be fans,” he said of a boisterous evening of volleyball. “We were watching a match between the USA and Germany and the Brazilians were cheering hard. But the next match was Brazil versus Ukraine and every point Brazil scored the stadium just erupted.”

Closing ceremonies were Sunday night. Freund helped pack the team’s gear and two boats for shipping back to the United States. Organizers of other sports, hearing that sailing is out of the 2020 Games, already started recruiting Freund and other sailors. He’s done some sit-skiing with Maine Adaptive. Strolling through the Olympic Village was intoxicating.

“All the athletes are here and everyone is pushing and pushing and pushing,” he said. “It’s hard to walk away from that.”


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