Less than 24 hours before racing at the Denmark Sail Grand Prix, United States SailGP Team Wing Trimmer Paul Campbell-James was inverted, thirty feet above the ocean doing 90 kph.
Even for SailGP – a new global championship raced on the F50, a high-speed, wing sail catamaran that flies out of the water – this was not normal.
During practice racing, the team was hurtling towards the bottom gate of the racecourse in extreme weather conditions preparing for their next maneuver when the boat’s 24-meter wing sail became unbalanced and as Campbell-James saved the boat from capsizing, he was ejected out of his cockpit breaking his leg.
“I had the choice of sorting the wing out and saving the capsize or letting go of everything and hanging on,” said Campbell-James. “In hindsight I should have held on!”
High on adrenaline, Campbell-James completed the race with the injury, then called in the medical boat.
“What a freaking animal,” said U.S. SailGP Team Driver, Jimmy Sptihill. “I’ve known CJ a long time and would take this guy into battle any day of the week. It says a lot about the team we’re building.”
The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time on the team’s schedule. After managing to heroically salvage the points in Denmark, the France Sail Grand Prix event in St. Tropez was only three weeks away.
A professional football athlete might be ruled out for the entire season after breaking a leg and SailGP athlete’s face over 3 G’s of forces in high-speed maneuvers running across a constantly moving platform.
With the team sitting only a few points off the podium – despite battling through an entire season of bad luck – was there still a chance to get Campbell-James back on the starting grid?
What happened next, is nothing short of a medical miracle.
The injury was on a Friday, Campbell-James flew back to Southampton, UK on Saturday, and the next day was referred to an orthopedic surgeon who specialized in this type of injury and happened to be an avid SailGP fan.
He gave Campbell-James a choice: spend six weeks in a cast recovering with no pain or, since an MRI had showed no soft tissue damage, opt for surgery, a titanium plate, and some pain paired with an aggressive rehabilitation plan that could take as little as three weeks if all went perfectly.
Campbell went into surgery that Monday evening.
“I wasn’t really prepared for what was going to follow the next 3 days,” said Campbell-James. “The painkillers didn’t seem like they were killing much pain. It was definitely the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been, but I was assured the bone was strong and the cast came off 5 days later.”
With the cast off, Campbell-James began an intensive recovery regimen, gradually beginning to shift weight onto the leg and by day 10 had already reached a milestone where he could run for ten minutes.
Campbell-James continued: “The doctors told me that every aspect of my recovery would need to go perfectly and even then, I would only have a chance of making the race in Saint Tropez. Fortunately, as soon as I jumped on the F50 in practice, it confirmed that my leg was strong enough to race and I was able to rotate back into the lineup. I can’t thank enough the incredible medical team that helped me get to that point.”
Campbell-James could not have recovered at a more crucial moment with the team climbing the overall leaderboard to claim second place after posting a second place finish at the French event.
Asked what response he might have for those sailors who believe the speeds the F50 is capable of makes it “too dangerous”, inviting this type of injury, Campbell-James replied: “I’m not sure there’s ever been a circuit that sailors have enjoyed more. Everyone comes in buzzing. It’s seriously fun. To quote Keanu Reeves, ‘Pain heals, chicks dig scars, and glory lasts forever.’”
The Spain Sail Grand Prix | Andalucia - Cadiz kicks-off next weekend, October 9-10 with racing live streamed via SailGP on YouTube and the SailGP APP starting at 11:30am EDT both days.