GVSU club sailor Nicholas Smart earns All-Academic Team nod
Whether it’s having the winningest football program in all of college football, claiming three of the last four women's soccer national championships, or capturing four straight NACDA Director’s Cup trophies, Grand Valley State Athletics are highly regarded throughout the nation.
But there’s one GVSU sports program whose recognition is seemingly found in unchartered waters: the Grand Valley State co-ed club sailing team.
One Laker sailor who earned recognition for his contributions as a member of the sailing team is senior Nicholas Smart, who was rewarded with a spot on the 2016-17 Collegiate Sailing All-Academic National Team.
The Collegiate Sailing All-Academic National Team recognizes collegiate sailors who have achieved excellence in national and inter-conference competition and who have excelled at the highest academic level. Smart, a criminal justice major, checked both of those categories to earn the nod.
Originally, Smart came to GVSU with the intention of playing for the baseball team during the duration of his college career. But in the fall of 2014, Smart discovered the GVSU sailing team.
Luckily, Smart’s transformation from the land to the water was smoother than most incoming sailors, as he is no stranger to the sport. After growing up surrounded by Michigan lakes and sailboats for a majority of his life, Smart accumulated around nine years of sailing experience before stepping onto the GVSU campus.
“It was always just something that was always around me growing up,” Smart said. “Baseball was something I was good at, but the idea of sailing always drew me in.”
The sailing team’s practice facility is located at Macatawa Bay Yacht Club, right next to Lake Macatawa near the city of Holland, Michigan. The program officially started in the spring of 2014 and currently has 17 members.
The boats typically sailed by the team are commonly known as 420s, a two-person vessel with two sets of different sails: the mainsail and the jib. One person is in charge of steering the boat and controlling the mainsail (the skipper), and the other balances the weight of the boat, controls the jib sail and is the watchdog for the skipper (the crew).
The tandem of Smart; a crew; and his skipper, Elliot Lee, has been GVSU’s most consistent and successful boat in the program’s brief four-year history. Lee has been grateful to be paired together with Smart.
“It’s great to have Nick as a crew, almost as great as having (him) as vice commodore (of GVSU club sailing),” Lee said. “He’s a natural athlete and improves every time he hits the water. Plus, he’s always juiced to go sailing all the time, and you need a guy like that around.”
Over the course of their three-year collegiate sailing careers, the duo has competed together in regattas in New York, Chicago, Wisconsin and multiple other Midwest colleges. Smart said Lee was one of the best sailors he has competed with throughout the course of his sailing career.
“With my athletic ability and his smarts as the skipper, we’ve really created a great duo,” Smart said. “(Lee) has a lot of respect in the sailing community, so it’s easy to learn from someone like that. He takes command of the boat, while allowing me to do my own thing as the crew.”
As both Lee's and Smart’s collegiate careers enter the final stage, both students have one major takeaway about their time with GVSU’s sailing program: the people they’ve met.
“Whether its Grand Valley sailors or others I’ve met during regattas, the relationships I’ve (made) along the way have made this journey all worth it,” Smart said. “This season, we have been going full force at Macatawa Bay. We’re really hoping to go far in the standings because it’s time to put GV in the national spotlight.”