UTA Magazine
At Play: Nataleigh Vann
Student sails to national championship

Nataleigh Vann’s classmates no doubt were jealous when the freshman took a week off from school in October to go sailing in Hawaii.

U.S.Women's National Sailing Championship

But this was no vacation. Her team from the Rush Creek Yacht Club in Heath, Texas, captured the U.S. Women’s National Sailing Championship in Kaneohe.

Vann served as tactician on the crew, which included her mother, Wendy. It marked the first time that a team from Texas had won the women’s national championship since 1956.

“I was in shock,” Nataleigh said. “I knew we had a good team, but I couldn’t believe that we won.”

Actually, Vann wasn’t on the team when it qualified for nationals in the summer. Team member Nancy Flynn decided not to make the trip, so Vann was asked to go in her place.

“Before we left, the four of us sailed together in a few small regattas just to get used to working with each other,” she explained, “but we knew it would be tough because some of the teams that we were up against had been sailing together all year.”

The national championships feature teams from 11 areas throughout the United States, with the Rush Creek team representing the south central part of the country. Ten races are spread over five days.

“With all the good teams there, it’s hard to go in thinking that you’re going to win. But after we won an early practice race, I had to revise my thinking,” Vann said. “I could see that we might do well.”

Nataleigh Vann
Freshman Nataleigh Vann celebrates her team's victory in the U.S. Women's National Sailing Championship.

Of the first nine races, the Rush Creek sailers won two and finished second in two others. Vann, her mother, Kerri Cunningham and driver Kathy Irwin were tied for second overall heading into the final race. Again they finished second, but the team in the lead, Deep Creek Yacht Club from Brooklyn, N.Y., finished ninth. So Rush Creek moved into first place and took home the Adams Trophy.

“I knew that we weren’t going to drop after finishing second in the last race. It was just a matter of how the team at the top of the standings finished,” Vann said. “They didn’t have a good race, so that made the difference for us.”

Vann has been sailing since she was 8, competing on the junior circuit for nine years. “My parents were involved in sailing, and I just naturally enjoyed it.”

In October 2003, she was on the crew that received the Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal for helping three members of another boat who had been dumped overboard due to high winds. The rescue came during the Rolex International Women’s Keelboat Championship in Annapolis, Md.

A 2004 graduate of Trinity Valley High School in Fort Worth, Vann does her local sailing at Eagle Mountain Lake through the Fort Worth Boat Club.

Will she and her teammates go for a repeat at next year’s national championships?

“We haven’t decided if we’ll try it or not,” she said.

“We’re still enjoying this championship.”

— Jim Patterson

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