Touch of Gray: ODU sailing team’s “current” inspiration

ODU sailing

NORFOLK, Va. - Old Dominion, a program with a rich history, is one of 36 schools to qualify for the 2017 Intercollegiate Sailing Association National Championships. It's the ninth straight year ODU has made it. However, none of those trips have charted the same course as this year's.

The program's decorated past decorates the walls inside Old Dominion's sailing center.

And the Monarchs will lean on past prowess as they head to Charleston, SC for the national championships this weekend.

"We're definitely peaking at the right time of the year," said junior skipper Jeremy Herrin. "We've been training in the weight room this past semester and the fall, so that's definitely an aspect to it."

But for this year's team - more impactful than the 100-plus All-Americans and 17 national championship is a much smaller, less celebratory display in that same hallway inside the team facility.

ODU sailing Gray Kiger

"It's certainly the toughest thing I've had to deal with as a coach," admitted ODU assistant sailing coach Charles Higgins. "There's nothing that can prepare you for it."

In February, freshman sailor Gray Kiger, a Norfolk native whose family has long supported ODU's program, took his own life.

"We got through it together," explained senior sailor Gabe Smith. "Nobody was left alone. We pushed each other. We took the thing we loved the most, being out on the water - something that Gray loved more than anybody."

His death was just days before the start of the season. The Monarchs first victory of the year didn't come until six weeks later at ODU's home event - the Aaron Szambecki Team Race. Szambeck is a former Monarch sailor who also took his own life.

"There is definitely more motivation," said Herrin. "The rest of this season is for him."

ODU sailing's bracelets to honor Gray Kiger

In the main hallway of the sailing center, there's a basket of bracelets to both remember Gray and raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

"Ignoring it is not the right way to go about it," explained Coach Higgins. "People need to be more aware. Everybody knows somebody who's going through depression."

In its quest for an eighteenth national title, ODU will have history on its side. But the Monarchs' departed teammate will be even closer.

"I'm always going to proud that I'm a Monarch," Smith said. "I know Gray was. It's all he ever wanted to be. He always will be one."