Md. sailor is on course to compete in Olympics

April 17, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

By the summer of 1996, Maxwell David Skelley of Havre de Grace is hoping to become a household name nationwide -- as in Max Skelley, Olympic sailor.

The Harford County native is vying for a place in the Summer Games in one of its newest competitions -- the Laser single-handed boat event.

It's a goal he's been charting for several years, an expensive, time-intensive endeavor. Mr. Skelley, 28, works full time at Sobstad Skelley, his family's sail-making business in his hometown and at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

In addition to his work schedule as salesman and sailor for the company, his calendar is a where's-where of regatta competitions around the country.

Last weekend, Mr. Skelley placed second out of 80 boats in a California meet that was the first of seven Olympic qualifying Laser regattas.

But that's just the beginning. Other events will be held in Connecticut, Georgia, Texas and Florida, with the final two sites to be determined.

His best four races will determine his standing. Last year, he ranked No. 2.

In between, Mr. Skelley will participate in the world Laser championships in Japan and other regattas in Germany and Canada.

So far, Mr. Skelley has paid his training expenses out of pocket, he says, but "my credit cards are maxed out."

So, his family and friends have organized a fund-raiser, "Max's Coming Out: A Quest for Gold," to be held Friday at the Sobstad Skelley sail loft on Key Highway. Gary Jobson of Annapolis, a world-class sailor and commentator for the cable television network ESPN, will be the guest speaker.

"I think that Max Skelley has a very realistic chance of winning the Olympic trials," Mr. Jobson said. "People with this kind of talent deserve some help."

"[Mr. Jobson] is donating his time," said Mr. Skelley's sister, Leslie, who lives in Havre de Grace and also is a competitive sailor. "He understands the Olympic process and the importance of fund raising."

Mr. Skelley estimates he will need $60,000 to prepare for the Olympics.

"He doesn't come from money," Ms. Skelley said. "He's going to have to raise money to have a shot."

Mr. Skelley says he sails every day to train for the regattas and improve his chances of qualifying for the Olympic trials in Savannah, Ga., a month before the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

"To get to the point [where one can] win the trials, you have to be the best person in the world," said Mr. Skelley, who runs and lifts weights three times a week.

Mr. Skelley, who graduated from Havre de Grace High School, wasn't always so enthusiastic about competing, or sailing, after his father, Ralph, bought a small boat 17 years ago.

He preferred skateboarding, traveling around the country as a teen-ager to demonstrate such stunts as nosegrinders and kickflips.

Of sailing, Mr. Skelley said, "At first, I could take it or leave it. Eventually, I got the bug."

After that bug bit him, Mr. Skelley chose to attend St. Mary's College in Southern Maryland so he could sail competitively.

But he injured a knee in 1988 sailing his favorite boat, the Laser -- a 14-foot craft with one sail -- and needed surgery. An anticipated six-month recovery turned out to last two years, he said.

"I've been sailing hard ever since," he said. It's a life that doesn't leave him much time on solid ground. "I enjoy fishing, sometimes hunting," said Mr. Skelley.

He also managed to squeeze in a wedding a little over a year ago.

Right now, though, his life is "nonstop sailing," he said.

The fund-raiser is $20 per person and includes hors d'oeuvres and beer. Information: (410) 939-6265.

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