On Jan. 14, 2013, 24-year-old Johnny Heineken, the 2012 Kiteboarding Course Racing World Champion, and 41-year-old Jennifer French, the 2012 Paralympic Silver Medalist in the SKUD-18 class, were named US Sailing’s 2012 Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year.
Heineken and French will be honored during a luncheon at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco on February 26, 2013, where they will be presented with engraved Rolex timepieces.
The annual awards of US Sailing’s Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year, sponsored by Rolex Watch U.S.A., recognize an individual’s outstanding on-the-water accomplishments of the calendar year. Since its establishment by US Sailing in 1961, the award has been presented to 41 men and 33 women.
Heineken was named the 2012 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year for his performances in competitive kiteboarding, which is making a name for itself as a sailing genre. Heineken competed in the Kiteboarding Course Racing World Championship in Cagliari, Italy, where he claimed the world title for a second consecutive year.
Heineken also proved his racing expertise by defeating 45 competitors in the Kiteboarding North American Course Racing Championship in San Francisco and 34 competitors at the Pacific Pilsner Canadian Kiteboard Course Racing Nationals in Squamish, Canada. He set a new course record of 14 minutes and 4 seconds in the Ronstan Bridge to Bridge Race in San Francisco, and rounded out his record by posting victories at PKRA Mexico, PKRA Burn Kiteboarding World Tour and Copa Mexico Regatta. He finished second at La Ventana Classic and took third at both the PKRA Beetle Kitesurf World Cup and PKRA Gold Games Kitesurf.
Heineken’s racing took him to places across the globe, including Germany, France and Turkey.
“To even be mentioned in connection with this award is an honor; so many of my role models are on the list of recipients,” Heineken said. “But it’s also exciting that kiting has been accepted into the world of yachting. It’s pretty amazing how far the class has come in the last five years and exciting for me to be involved in the development of that,” he continued.
Though an avid kiteboarder, Heineken is no stranger to sailing. "I started kiteboarding a lot later than many of the people I’m competing against, but I did grow up sailing and that’s what has given me a strong background to be a good kite racer,” said Heineken. “Typical sailboat racing courses are what we’ve optimized our gear for; it’s the same game, the same tactics, really.”
Heineken trains and travels with his older sister, Erika Heineken, who was runner-up this year for the Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year. She also shared the top step on the podium with Johnny at the Kiteboarding Course Racing World Championship as the women’s division winner.
Jennifer French was named the 2012 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year for her silver-medal performance at the Paralympic Games in Weymouth and Portland, England. Sailing in the SKUD-18 class with crew JP Creignou, French secured her team’s second-place finish in a fleet of 11 international teams. In the lead up to the Games, she and Creignou, who are both members of US Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider, also sailed the SKUD-18 to a second in the IFDS World Championship in Florida. She won third place at both the French Olympic Sailing Week and US Sailing’s Rolex Miami OCR in Florida, and fourth place at Skandia Sail for Gold in England.
French was an exemplary representative of the U.S. at the Paralympic Games and throughout 2012 in the SKUD-18 class.
“I’m extremely humbled and overwhelmed by the honor of being placed in the company of so many fantastic sailors who have had such an influence on me,” said French. “It’s a huge achievement, but I wouldn’t be given this award if it weren’t for JP and my husband, Tim, and a large team of special people in our lives who made it possible.”
French sees this as a victory for disabled sailing organizations and those who actively support it. “This is also a huge step for disabled sailing and for the recognition of all those who have worked so hard over the years to make disabled sailing possible,” said French.
French was born in North Royalton, Ohio, and says the closest she got to water as a child was fishing with her grandfather on Lake Erie. She graduated from Bridgewater State College, where she was introduced to windsurfing and went on to do some cruising on a family boat. As a result of a snowboarding accident in 1998, French became a quadriplegic from a C6-7 incomplete spinal cord injury. Her story was featured in the documentary film To Have Courage and in the book Shattered Nerves.
For additional racing results for each winner, please visit ussailing.org.