When SailGP launched the careers pathway of the Inspire program, it never guessed than within months, one of its candidates would soon be invited to embark on the experience of a lifetime, which would see them lifting the SailGP Championship Trophy alongside Olympic gold medalist Tom Slingsby.
Rhys Cheetham aged 19, from Ryde, Isle of Wight, was one of 11 participants that took part in the inaugural SailGP Inspire Careers program - which aims to provide students with the opportunity to experience the array of professional pathways available at SailGP. Just one month later, he got a call-up for the dream job - to join the Australia SailGP Team in Marseille at the season finale.
Cheetham had limited experience of the marine industry but with an interest in technology and engineering, he put his name forward for work experience following a presentation by the SailGP Inspire Program, looking for candidates to join the global championship at its UK debut in Cowes.
Offered a week-long placement, Cheetham joined the SailGP technical team ahead of Cowes SailGP, working with the wing department - the team responsible for the development and maintenance of the 24 meter wingsail that provides the main power behind the world’s fastest sail race boats.
Just ahead of the weekend's racing, as his work experience was coming to a conclusion, the Australia SailGP Team suffered extensive damage to their wing during training. With the SailGP tech team working around the clock to get the F50 back on the water, Cheetham offered to stay on and assist. Australia's shore team manager, Andrew Henderson, couldn’t turn a blind eye to his enthusiasm and soon asked him to join their team for the remainder of the week.
After continuing to impress the team with his commitment, Cheetham was offered the chance of a lifetime - to join the Australian team for the SailGP Season 1 Grand Final in Marseille. Having not been abroad since a young age, Cheetham was soon packing his bags and flying south to join the team.
“We were really impressed with his level of intent, commitment and enthusiasm, so we were very keen to get him back for Marseille,” said Henderson. “I think it’s incredibly important that we give people this type of opportunity and access to our sport at this level, so we really enjoyed having him as part of the team.”
Cheetham joined the team for a week, helping across the shore operations and getting a unique insight into the work that goes on around a high performance sports team. Cheetham’s hard work paid off, and in recognition for his efforts, he found himself central to the Australian team’s victory celebrations, joining the team on the podium and hoisting the SailGP Championship Trophy to the packed crowds in the race village.
“Working with Australia SailGP Team has been an amazing experience. I have never felt that motivated and part of a team so I actually wanted to go to work and for the first time in my life, I was on time,” said Cheetham. “Walking out onto that stage I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and excitement to be a part of something so special and I really think this opportunity has been a turning point in my life.”
“One of the aims of the Inspire Careers program is to target young people that aren’t necessarily on the performance pathway, but interested in a career in another side of the sport,” said SailGP Youth Program Manager Tom Herbert-Evans. “This is just the start and we are looking to expand the program for SailGP Season 2 in 2020 and help young people to understand the different career opportunities that are available and give them the opportunity to experience a new culture and environment.”
In the first year of SailGP Inspire, 27 students had the opportunity to work with the organization across a broad range of roles including hospitality, media operations, event management, boat building and engineering. To get involved in Season 2, starting at Sydney SailGP in February, register here.