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From Grassroots Beginnings to Shaping Paralympic Futures

AbleSail Alum Jenny Davey Appointed to Para World Sailing Committee

Headshots of Scott Lutes and Jenny Davey with Paralympic bronze medal

“Watching his journey was so exciting!” Jenny Davey and Paralympian Bronze medallist Scott Lutes at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Award-winning Para sailing coach and advocate, Jenny Davey, described her introduction to the Para sailing community in one word: “serendipitous.”

With nearly two decades of experience building Para sailing in Canada from the grassroots level, she also holds a strong vision for creating more capacity and a pipeline for future Paralympic opportunities. It’s little wonder that this lifelong champion for adaptive sailing would be recognized and invited to apply her Canadian lens at the sport’s international level.

Chosen by Para World Sailing Committee

In exciting news, Jenny was recently appointed to World Sailing’s Para World Sailing Committee. Responsible for promoting and supporting Paralympic sailing programmes worldwide, the Committee also makes event and equipment recommendations to World Sailing.

"I was a little surprised, flattered and intrigued", Jenny said of the news of her nomination and election.  "There are so many excellent candidates to approach in Canada for this kind of global leadership. While it’s validating to know that my work has been recognized, this appointment is truly a reflection of everyone around me and all they’ve taught me.”

She continued, “My skill set and expertise are thanks to people like Paula Stone and René Dallaire at AbleSail Network and the Association québécoise de voile adaptée (AQVA), as well as Karell Regnier and Christine Lavallée at Nepean Sailing Club. I’ve also been able to grow from the support and mentorship of many athletes and coaches at events like Mobility Cup. To be part of this international body now is a reflection of the greater community that has been behind me over the years.”

An Early Start in Adapted Sport

A well-known force on the Canadian Para sailing scene for almost 20 years, Jenny’s passion and commitment to adaptive sailing started as a teen at home in Montreal. “I grew up sailing and racing, then got introduced to adapted sports in high school when I started volunteering with an adapted aquatics program,” she explained.

Jenny Davey in a coach boat

In her element aboard a coach boat at Mobility Cup 2019 in Nepean, ON

At McGill University, Jenny went on to discover other adapted sport opportunities, in tandem with being a member, and later coach, of the McGill Sailing team. Her interests and passions combined as she worked to complete a Masters in Psychology and Pedagogy of Sport. Her focused studies explored ways of supporting learning experiences for coaches new to working with Para athletes.

During this time, Jenny was hired as Manager and Head Coach at AQVA in Montreal. This would become a fruitful relationship lasting eight years, followed by a decade of volunteer service by Jenny.

“That opportunity was a game changer for me,” Jenny pointed out. “Working with Paula Stone and building the AQVA program became so instrumental to everything I did going forward. It was as if all the threads aligned.” She continued, “It influenced my path in the best way possible, really focusing and propelling me in my career.”

After AQVA, Jenny went on to share her passion and expertise with the Disabled Sailing Association of BC (Victoria) and Nepean Sailing Club AbleSail programs. She became more involved with AbleSail Network, including serving on the national board of directors and continues to contribute her expertise and advice to the organization.

Jenny Davey's Leadership Enhanced AbleSail Network

“The AbleSail community is so dear to my heart. What really hooked me was how open, collaborative and committed the whole community is,” Jenny revealed. “I was energized by the openness and inclusion of Para sailing, where everyone could experience the sport.”

She continued, “What also struck me was that even though AbleSail programming stretches across the country, the ties are very strong. We’re connected and invested in a way that feels rare to me. It’s incredibly meaningful to be part of a network so willing to share and collaborate, while also competing in sport.”

AbleSail Network Board director René Dallaire is not at all surprised that Jenny was nominated to the Para World Sailing Committee, based on his extensive experience with her. He remarked, “Jenny has been instrumental in developing Para programs in Canada, as well as coaching at multiple Mobility Cup events. I’m delighted that her voice and vision will be added to the international Para sailing conversation.”

Headshots of René Dallaire and Jenny Davey

"I learned so much from René over the years and each summer, I try to companion with him whenever I can.”

Dallaire continued, “Jenny has so much to offer from her experience with sailors with disabilities. We couldn’t be more proud to have someone as tuned in and experienced push for better inclusion and increased opportunity in the sport worldwide.”

Similarly, Jenny built strong ties with Sail Canada where she designed a national Coaching Para Sailors professional development module and does ongoing work on their other sailing initiatives. Currently, Jenny is Manager of Paralympic Pathways at the Canadian Paralympic Committee working with regional, provincial and national sport partners to support research, funding, athlete identification, classification, and development initiatives for athletes and coaches.

Jenny Davey standing next to Sylvie Séguin in wheelchair. Marina in background

“Sylvie was a gifted sailor. I learned a lot about disability and life from her. She passed away last year and her impact on my outlook in sport is immeasurable.”

Now, Jenny is engaged in her new role working with the Para World Sailing Committee. When asked what’s next in this new chapter of her journey, she explained, “This group makes recommendations to the core council of World Sailing, from events to equipment and from policy to liaising on Paralympic issues. We will be also focusing on development work with emerging countries where Para sailing is less developed.”

Para Sailing Pipeline Supports Paralympic Realities

Jenny also brings extensive knowledge and experience of sailing for people with disabilities at the grassroots level, in addition to the high-performance level. “A key goal for this committee is to develop the sport nationally and get more participation,” Jenny noted. “This ties into a high performance component, especially for the Paralympics. To advance, you need a grassroots pipeline as much as increased capacity.”

As a prime example of a successful grassroots to Paralympics trajectory, Jenny shared Scott Lutes' journey. "I remember the first day Scott came to Pointe-Claire Yacht Club and started to learn to sail. He then raced with AQVA for years and eventually went on to compete for Canada in the London 2012 Paralympics and medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympics. Watching his journey was so exciting!"

Jenny added that "identifying obstacles is key to advancing the sport. Some real challenges for Para sailing include getting more people involved in the sport. We need to encourage more 360-degree participation from people with disabilities as sailors, coaches, administrators and volunteers.”

She pointed out that understanding coaching needs, and getting more coaches with disabilities onto the coaching pathway are both extremely important factors. “If a sailor with a disability doesn’t see someone who they identify with, that’s a missed opportunity,” she explained.

Ambitious, Inclusive Goals for World Sailing

“We’ll need to build the sport starting at the grassroots level,” Jenny pointed out. “We’ve had great success in Canada with active and engaged clubs, and I’m happy to bring these insights to the Committee, having worked in three different national Para sailing programs and major events like Mobility Cup.

Group shot of AQVA sailors on lawn at Royal Vancouver Yacht Club

AQVA Crew with coach and volunteer support at Mobility Cup 2010 Vancouver

“I’m excited to learn and share with the Committee and to be part of global leadership for the sport. It’s beyond meaningful to me to bring Canada’s lessons to the global community -- and it’s thanks to the hundreds of people I’ve met, worked with and learned from across Canada.”
“Our big goal is to get Para sailing back on the Paralympic program, pushing for Los Angeles 2028 Games.” She added with a smile, “It would be incredibly special - and crucial - to get Para sailing back in the Paralympic world.”

AbleSail Network celebrates and honours Jenny Davey’s impressive, lifelong commitment to Para sailing across Canada, and now, the world. Congratulations to World Sailing for bringing this visionary advocate for sailors with disabilities on board. She will undoubtedly add wind to the sails.
Story by Jennifer Barnable