17 August 2022

My Life Now - George's unique SailGP experience

Graduate volunteer and long-time young person, George Paxford, is enjoying a unique chance to work alongside some of the best sailors in history at one of the sport’s highest profile racing events in Denmark this week (15-20 August).

George Paxford at SailGP event

George, 25, is in Copenhagen for a week’s work experience with the Switzerland SailGP team at the latest round of Sail GP , the thrilling professional global sailing league, where 50ft foiling catamarans go head-to-head in high-octane racing.

As part of the Swiss SailGP team, George will be working alongside Australian sailing legend, Nathan Outteridge and TeamGB’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold medallist, Stuart Bithell as well as Switzerland’s top young sailing stars including two-time Olympian, Sébastien Schneiter.

He will also rub shoulders with the likes of, Sir Ben Ainslie (GBR), the most successful Olympic sailor of all time, Olympic gold medallists and reigning America’s Cup champions, Pete Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL), and two-time America’s Cup winner Jimmy Spithill (USA), who race for rival teams.

George secured his work experience through the SailGP Inspire programme, which provides once-in-a-lifetime career and racing opportunities that may otherwise have been inaccessible and unthinkable for young adult males and females from diverse backgrounds with an interest in sports. Now he’s taking in every minute.

George said: “I’ve been really looking forward to this week, to learning some new skills and trying something different. So far I’ve been doing all sorts of bits and pieces with the boat, mostly on shore, but they have had me out checking over the pursuit boat as well, fixing bits and pieces on the boat.

“I will be helping out when the Swiss team is doing training racing and doing the actual racing. It should be really good, and I think my favourite bit is going to be watching the racing itself and seeing all the boats go flying past.”

Sailing towards a brighter future

George has had bone cancer (osteosarcoma) in his leg twice. First diagnosed as a nine-year-old in 2006, his cancer returned in 2018. That time, following months of chemotherapy, the best option for him to survive was amputation. He was 21 and in his first year of a Biomedical Science degree at the University of Birmingham.

George working at the event in Denmark

His love affair with boats started when he first sailed with the Trust aged 12 in 2009 and having returned to sail year-on-year until 2017 he then became a graduate volunteer to support other young people on Trust trips.

After his amputation in 2018, George discovered Whitefriars Sailability – a club close to his Wiltshire home that runs sailing for disabled people as part of the national RYA Sailability programme. He also started sailing and racing at university. Before long he was regularly competing in and winning national competitions.

which shows a positive future after cancer is a reality and how often the Trust helps inspire young people to take the first step towards achieving their dreams.

At the time, he was two years into his Biomedical Science degree. George explains how that is helping him in a completely different role with Switzerland SailGP.

He added: “When I heard that SailGP and the Swiss team were offering an opportunity, I thought it sounded absolutely fantastic, something really interesting and very different to the types of work experience I’ve had before. There are always transferable skills, that’s something all jobs talk about needing now.

“Particularly for this role, things like attention to detail and making sure everything is in the right place, are important, looking if there’s anything that shouldn’t be there. Everyone working together as a team and that everything runs smoothly are other skills that make a difference. I’m really enjoying it so far.”

Switzerland SailGP Team is supported by Norway’s Stiftelsen VI, known as the ‘VI Foundation’, champions equal opportunities for all to achieve.

Follow the action

Rockwool Denmark Sail Grand Prix takes place on 19-20 August. You can follow all the action at @SailGP across social media and keep track of how George’s Switzerland team are getting on at @SailGPSUI