Resilience is a skill to be learned, practiced and endlessly developed, as life is full of challenges. Resilience requires dedication to overcome these challenges and grow from them. If there is a single word I can use to describe the Santiago Lange we meet on A Little Bit Of Genius, it is dedication. There is a candidness about his obsession and passion for sailing; he does not pretend to be anything more or less than who he is at heart: a world-class sailor.
He won an Olympic gold medal after thirty-six years of competing for his beloved homeland, Argentina. His day consists of three to four hours of training, plus one hour of prep and disassembly either side, along with up to five meetings – that’s around 12 hours a day, 300 days a year. Not only that, he has scored a gold medal in parenting: at the Rio Olympics, his golden year, his sons also competed. He even overcame lung cancer the very same year — a triple triumph!
For Santiago, sailing is as much a family tradition as it is a vocation. His father was an Olympic sailor, and his sons have continued that lineage. He recalls living on a boat at the age of eight, having started sailing age six, and talks of how he and his sons lived on a boat as a family for four years. It’s a slightly alien concept for many of us, but for Santiago it represents the best way to be happy: “you live so simple…living light…my sons would say the best times for our family were on the boat”.
Santiago reflects that the hardest aspect of sailing, like life, is that there are “so many variables”, from the boat itself, to the design of the sail, the mast – not to mention the weather conditions. It is both “technically and mentally difficult”, but equally the variability is the “most fascinating” part of the sport; what makes it special and exciting for Santiago, even after five decades of experience.
Our sailing-enthusiast hosts, Ella and Anthony from Collège du Léman, compassionately ask if they can speak of his battle with cancer. Santiago responds openly, saying he believes he benefitted massively from being an athlete and sailor in grappling with the difficulties the illness threw at him. Being a sailor taught him to accept and embrace nature, and to adapt accordingly.
Moreover, as a sportsperson, he explains that “you train to overtake barriers”. Whilst he says “all the process was just crazy”, his dedication to sailing helped deliver him to safer waters: he was “only thinking of Rio” when deciding whether to take surgery to combat his cancer. Going on to win gold at Rio following his recovery, he is still very humble: he now simply feels “privileged enough to keep practising our sport”.
The Olympics are a clear and obvious source of pride and inspiration for Santiago; “not very long ago, I realised I really identify with the Olympic values, which are friendship, excellence and respect”. He loves representing Argentina, describing it as “a big honour” to “represent our [Argentinian] traditions, our way of thinking, our culture”. Beyond this homeland pride, Santiago believes the Olympics play a much greater symbolic role for the world: “I don’t think there is any event in the world that shows the peace more than the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.”
As we draw towards the end of our virtual fireside chat with Santiago, he looks to the future of sailing, believing that it needs to become more accessible. He thinks that the way to make it more open to newcomers is to simplify the sport and how it is showcased across the world. He enjoys watching this evolution of the sport play out in his own experience, as he competes against younger athletes who take a different approach to sailing, without compromising success. He also looks to his own future, explaining that he feels the time has come for him to give back – either to his country or through the Olympics.
With a diverse set of routes before him, we look forward to seeing where Santiago Lange next sets sail.