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Top amateur dinghy crew Fiona Clark passes away

by Elaine Watkin Jones 15 Oct 2021 18:00 BST
Nick Craig and Fiona Clark win the 2007 Enterprise nationals at Abersoch © Janice Bottomley / www.sailaway.me.uk

Fiona Clark: 16 September 1980 - 5 October 2021

Fiona Clark was an outstanding amateur dinghy crew, a shining light especially in the RS200 and RS400 fleets. Elaine Watkin Jones shares the thoughts of some of the country's top dinghy sailors and her personal memories of a special sailor.

As I write this it is International Day of the Girl, which is fitting as I remember the girl who was also known to many as Running Girl. This girl was Fiona Clark, or Fi to many.

Fi was an enigma in the RS fleets - she was small, quiet and fast. Fi was this legendary girl who showed no fear of the wind or of her helms. Fi crewed with some the greatest amateur helms of the 2000's, however she didn't just crew for them as any mere mortal would, she had a way in the boat which few people have.

A strength more than her size and a domineering authority. I can proudly say that I have been close to her on the racecourse, but never ahead. She had a powerful presence, but she wasn't loud or full of her own excellence, more often oblivious to her own abilities. She would often be the first to congratulate you on your results and would brush off any praise directed towards her.

Fi started sailing at Weirwood Sailing Club and soon caught the eye of David Giles. David got her in the front of the RS200 and in 2002 she headed off to the National Championships in Weymouth where she finished an impressive second. The Giles and Clark combination didn't have to wait long for a National Championship title as they won the following year at Restronguet Sailing Club in a 101-strong fleet. This was the first major win for Fiona and from then on she would go on to win the RS200s again with Craig Burlton and scoring another second with Geoff Carveth.

After dominating the RS200 fleet since 2002, she was convinced to move up to the RS400 which is where I first met her. As a female crew in a male-dominated class it was refreshing to have another girl to socialise with (see picture of us upside down). I was instantly in awe of her. Fi was so unbelievably fit and powerful. There are many stories of her finishing a windy day's racing and then going for a run around the lake while everyone else sought shelter in the bar. Fi never complained about the conditions, or the grumpy helms, she just quietly smiled and enjoyed the atmosphere.

In 2008 Fi crewed for Nick Craig in the RS400 and won the Eurocup in Lake Garda and the Nationals in 2011. Fi also crewed for Nick in the Enterprise, winning both the World and National Championships.

Nick Craig told me a lovely story which illustrates Fi's incredible competitiveness and good humour. Nick and Fi were leading the 400 Nationals at Exe, but Fi was also determined to win the buddy prize. Part of it was a treasure hunt around town which they completed at lung-busting 'Fi speed'. At the prize-giving a huge cheer went up for Fi winning the nationals (again), but good humoured boos for also winning the buddy prize, which she found very funny!

Fi loved running and was an accomplished member of ST Francis RFC, RPAC - Crawley. RPAC member Natalie Wilson told me, "Fiona was an outstanding athlete with a debut marathon time of 2.48.25 in Florence. In 2010 she was selected to run for England in a half marathon in Denmark having achieved a half marathon time of 75.50 in Bath.

"For many years Fiona was the stalwart of the ladies cross country team winning many of the Surrey league races. Fiona loved the cross country season and will be sorely missed by the entire team and I'm sure she'll be at the forefront of our minds at the first league match next week."

Fi's running sometimes got her in trouble during sailing events and she once received the Duckhams Award for managing to get lost on Portland and getting rescued by the Coast Guard. Nick Craig recalls, "I used to encourage Fi not to run after sailing, partly to save her legs for sailing (which didn't affect her anyway) and because I could see she was so hard on herself with diet and exercise, the opposite to most people! She'd just brush it off and nicknamed me her anti-running coach."

Fi kept most things to herself and even her family weren't fully aware of her talent. Fi also didn't see herself as we saw her - she had a long fight with her mental health and in recent months she wrote eloquently and passionately about her battle.

I would ask you to remember the Running Girl at the front of the fleet hiking out hard and pulling that kite up so fast you'd wonder if it was electric. The girl who out-ran Steve Irish and made him beg for the running to stop. The girl who was described by Nick Craig as 'a weapon'.

I would also ask you to spare two minutes from your day to read and sign Fiona's petition on change.org and you might consider a donation to the mental health charity Mind, or the eating disorders charity Beat in her memory.

Sail or run forever, Running Girl. RIP Fi.

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