By Terry Wilcox
When Jennifer Hinkel was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1998 at the age of 17, her life as she knew it came to a standstill: from her daily routine to her long-term plans, her world was transformed as she took on the fight of her life.
After undergoing surgery and chemotherapy, Jennifer achieved full remission, but the experience left her emotionally and physically exhausted. While the treatment had rid her of the disease, physical and emotional effects of the experience remained.
“When a person goes through cancer, that individual experiences a rift between the physical body and the spirit. Cancer is, both metaphorically and literally, from a scientific standpoint a betrayal by one’s own body. While the hopeful spirit can sustain the body through grueling treatment and recovery, often the spirit is left exhausted, and the person is left an emotional wreck,” Jennifer says. “I struggled with coming to terms with this experience, with anxiety over whether the cancer would come back, and with an enormous fear that, much like my cancer diagnosis, another unexpected disaster could be just around the corner.”
It was in the wake of her recovery that Jennifer’s family took a sailing trip in the British Virgin Islands. Although this wasn’t her first time sailing, it was a transformational experience to be on the ocean and feel the synchronicity of wind, water, and sails.
“Sailing is an amazing sport, and so much more than just a sport,” Jennifer says. “People talk about being out in the middle of the ocean and feeling a unique sense of calm and oneness with nature. The moment when the sails are raised and the engine is turned off, when you’re propelled across the waves by only the silent wind, is pure magic, and it sweeps up your soul and your sense of being.”
Having felt the magic of sailing, Jennifer launched a competitive-sailing career in 2010 in San Francisco and has since participated on teams throughout the United States, Argentina, and the United Kingdom. She is also the co-author of Getting Started in Yacht Racing.
Her passion for the role sailing and racing can play in improving mental and physical health led Jennifer to found Resilience Racing, a competitive-sailing program for cancer survivors, as a way to give back to other patients and survivors and to offer others the peace and healing she experienced on the water. She believes that the sport helped her overcome the stress and anxiety she experienced after the cancer diagnosis and treatment, making her appreciate the practically limitless awareness of mind, body, spirit—and surf.
“Racing is physical and mental,” she says, “and it requires an intense amount of focus and concentration. When I am racing, that experience squeezes out any sense of fear or anxiety, and I feel strong and at peace. This experience, more than anything else, has aided in the recovery of my mental and emotional health after cancer.”
Resilience Racing (resilienceracing.wix.com/resilienceracing) supports cancer survivors in their recovery and teaches the physical and technical skills of competitive sailing. Research has shown that outdoor sports and adventure activities promote recovery and healing for cancer survivors and may improve physical and mental wellness. Outdoor activities, being part of a team sport, and competitive sailing—all have been demonstrated to be effective tools in recovery for individuals who have undergone traumatic experiences. Resilience Racing is the first competitive-sailing program created specifically for cancer survivors.
“Sailing is incredibly fun, and the camaraderie of a racing crew has given me some of my closest friends and confidantes,” Jennifer says. “Racing is an experience that I want to share with everyone else who has been through cancer, in the hope that it might impact and inspire them in the same ways it has done for me.”
When she’s not on the water, Jennifer is a partner at McGivney Global Advisors, where she consults with biotech and healthcare companies to help ensure that patients are able to access innovative cancer treatments. In addition, she serves on the board of directors of the Master Mariners Benevolent Association and is the vice commodore of the Presidio Yacht Club. Jennifer is active in both the cancer survivor and sailing communities.
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