Fia Fjelddahl goes it alone at 2018 Para Worlds

If there’s one thing Fia Fjelddahl loves more than sailing, it’s breakfast.

The 19-year-old Swede is competing in the 2018 Para World Championship in Sheboygan completely on her own – no team, no coach, no family support. But as long as she gets a good breakfast, she can handle it.

It’s a lesson she learned when she competed in the Paralympics in Rio in 2016. She had some equipment problems, she said, besides being young and inexperienced and possibly a little stubborn as well. It wasn’t her best performance but since then, she’s learned some hard lessons that are making her a better athlete.

“The first thing I learned is that it’s really good to listen to your coach,” she said. “They probably know a lot of things.”

For example, her coach in Rio told her the left side of the course was the best way to go, but she disagreed.

“I thought it was better on the right side, so I was on the right side and it wasn’t good at all,” she said.

The other big problem she had in Rio was that breakfast.

“When I was in Rio, that was a problem,” Fjelddahl said. “The first two days I didn’t find any breakfast. You need your breakfast to go on. In Rio the first week I was, like, sad also – I was homesick. I wouldn’t be that homesick if I would find breakfast, but I didn’t.”

She had a major dose of homesickness the year before, at the Para World Championship in Australia. It was only her second time on an airplane and her first time going anywhere far away without her family.

“Sailing for two and half weeks, in a boat you’ve been sailing one and a half months, and you don’t know any people, you didn’t know your coach,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect. And like, I really love Sweden. I started missing it the second I was at the airport. I missed Sweden and my family.”

But after awhile, she found the fortitude she needed to manage in a foreign country, and she decided to work at being comfortable on her own. Fjelddahl has a form of cerebral palsy that affect her right side. Riding her bike is easy, but detailed or quick moves aren’t.

“General moves I can do but if I have to do something quick in the boat, my right hand isn’t quick enough so I do everything with my left hand.”

 In August Fjelddahl competed in an Open Worlds in Sweden and decided to go it totally alone to test her independence.

“My general idea was to be alone and handle myself and see how much can I do by myself, see how much do I need help,” she said. “But in the end, there was like 30-40 Swedish guys there and everyone was helping me.”

In Sheboygan, Wisconsin, for the 2018 Para Worlds, she’s having an easier time handling herself. Staying with a local host and riding a bicycle everywhere she needs to go, she’s loathe to ask for help.

It’s not hurting her sailing – she won her first race on the second day of the regatta and was happy with her fifth-place finish in the third race. 

“The second race was not so good but I managed to sail up some boats, so it was like, not horrible but just a little bit better than horrible,” she said. “I want to be in the medal race.”

But she isn’t having any problem competing by herself.

“I learned that I can manage myself,” she said. “It was hard, but the more I was here, the more I grew as a person. I have friends here.”