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Inspiring the next generation: the incredible story of Martin Boatman

by Will Carson 18 Jan 10:40 GMT
Martin Boatman - inspirational youth coach © RYA

Martin Boatman, who died this week following a two-year battle with cancer, will be remembered as one of the most influential and inspiring coaches of youngsters the sailing world has seen.

A talented sailor, Martin was snapped up by the RYA in 2008 to work as the assistant zone squad coach in the North region assisting Dave Hivey, developing young racing talent in the Topper dinghy class.

Martin's skills quickly came to the fore and he soon took the lead of the Northern Topper Zone Squad himself.

He blended his day job as a primary school teacher with coaching brilliantly, and it soon became clear Martin had a gift for getting the very best from his sailors.

Few could have predicted the impact he would have on countless young sailors over the following decade.

Renowned for his humour, knowledge, straight-talking and humility, Martin was loved and respected in equal measure and quickly became integral to the development of the UK's most talented young sailors.

In 2014 he was promoted to the role of national coach for the Laser 4.7 squad, charged with developing world class racing sailors.

"Martin was the natural choice for this role, said Tim Hall, the RYA's Single Handed Pathway Manager. "He was looking for a new coaching challenge alongside his teaching and fitted in straight away - even though he had never sailed a Laser. We had great confidence in his ability to lead and inspire sailors in his charge from the outset. He just had the critical fascination for the process and set about learning everything he needed to know about Lasers so he could pass on the knowledge."

One of his passions was promoting girls' sailing, and he was driven to achieve a 50/50 gender split in his squad.

Three years later Boatman's female sailors dominated the international stage, winning gold at the Under 16 European Championship and bronze at the worlds.

In recognition he was nominated for Performance Development Coach of the Year.

As well as coaching sailors, Martin became a valued leader within the RYA Pathway team, helping to coach and develop colleagues within the youth and senior programmes.

But in September 2016, Martin was given devastating news.

Suffering from severe headaches and blurred vision, Martin had a scan which revealed multiple tumours on his brain.

He was given just weeks to live, and family, friends and colleagues said their goodbyes.

But then came another twist to the story: having agreed to try a round of trial therapy his cancer was held at bay.

While the disease would remain terminal, Martin responded with typical positivity, throwing himself back into coaching.

"After his diagnosis Martin could have drawn up a bucket list of things to do but he didn't," said Mark Nicholls, the RYA's Youth Racing Manager. "Instead he went back to the sport he loved and carried on inspiring young sailors to be the absolute best they can be. That was incredibly selfless, but so typical of Martin."

Shortly after his diagnosis Martin was named Performance Development Coach of the Year at the UK Coaching Awards, and was presented with the honour by HRH The Princess Royal.

Martin fought his illness with everything he had, refusing to let it prevent him from getting out on the water.

"He wasn't a glass half full kind of guy, his was 99 percent full," said Dave Mellor, the RYA's Coaching Development Manager. "We obviously knew he was ill but he never gave a sense of how progressed it was because he was just so positive. He was dogmatic about not being affected by his illness."

To add a cruel twist, in early 2017 Martin's wife Sam was also diagnosed with cancer. She underwent surgery in February 2017 and "rang the bell" for the all clear in October 2017.

However, this didn't seem to stop Martin's dedication to his coaching. As well as supporting his family, he continued to have a successful season with his squad.

In May 2018 Martin proudly represented the North East with a team of youngsters at the Eric Twiname Junior Championships, the RYA's annual 'Battle of the Regions'. Martin also took on the task of Female Single Handed Pathway Lead Coach as a joint role with Sarah McGovern in 2018. This saw Martin pursuing his passion of supporting girls in sport. He researched various aspects of what is needed to ensure we have success in the female pathway and the work he has done in 2018 will certainly be part of his legacy.

There followed the Laser Radial U21 and Laser 4.7 World Championships in Gdynia, Poland. Here Martin did a mammoth coaching job supporting sailors at 2 back to back events. Any coach was find this a physical and mental challenge, but Martin took it in his stride and was also keenly following the England team at the football World Cup which was taking place at the same time.

Meanwhile, Matilda Nicholls and Alex Schonrock, Martin's protégées, scooped the runner up spot and first under 17 respectively at the Laser Radial Youth World Championships in Kiel, Germany.

On 13 January 2019 the inevitable happened, and, aged just 34, Martin passed away peacefully surrounded by friends and family.

"Put simply, Martin was one of the best development coaches we have ever had," Nicholls said. "He blended his teaching skills with sailing perfectly, and that is reflected in how respected and loved he was both on and off the water. He may be gone, but his legacy lives on in those he taught, coached and inspired."

Daisy Collingridge, British Sailing Team: "Martin was an incredible coach who just loved being on the water. He made a huge impact on my sailing career. He challenged me to set aspirational goals and was always pushing us to achieve our very best. The most amazing think about him was his sense of humour. He would have us all in stitches no matter what the situation was. He never ever complained, not once. He always put his sailors first and threw himself into being the best coach he could be. He will be hugely missed but the lessons which he taught so many young people will stay for a very long time."

A few tributes to Martin

Jack Wetherell, British Sailing Team: "I have a lot of fond memories of Martin. He was a great guy, a cheeky chap who wasn't afraid to voice his opinion. A valuable trait in modern society and something which enabled him to be a fantastic coach and leader."

Henry Wetherell, British Sailing Team: "Martin was a great man who was my first coach. He made sailing fun and competitive for me. Had a great balance between fun and hard work, and was a close family friend. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him as he had such a positive effect on so many people."

Hector Simpson, British Sailing Team: "Martin has made a real mark on the world and left me with some amazing memories. Funniest probably being when I had to beg for a starting watch because I had forgotten to bring mine on the water - it was even caught on video and relived multiple times. His love for sailing and quick witted humour was truly infectious. He encouraged his squads not only to strive to be the best sailor but also to strive to be the best version of ourselves possible. What was really unique about him was to be able to do all this but always ensuring everyone had heaps of fun along the way. I feel privileged to have learned and developed under him and then also later to have coached alongside him."

Chris Blackburn, RYA High Performance Manager, North and North East: "A truly inspirational coach whose passion for the sport was evident in all he did. Martin leaves a huge legacy of sailors from junior right through to sailors now in Olympic squads who would not be where they are today without the selfless support and nurturing from Martin."

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