The A-scow skims across White Bear Lake, and a half-dozen sailors duck and dodge, yank and cajole ropes, and volunteer themselves as human ballast. They look like a surgical team performing Pilates on a Disney water ride.
They hook their toes under a padded strap and lay out over the water, the back of their legs catching spray, their faces buffeted by the wind, their abdominal muscles protesting. The scow flies by the White Bear Yacht Club and the docks of local sailing legend Fletcher Driscoll and a historic Chris-Craft boat burnished so that it glows in the fading sunlight.
This is where Lara Dallman-Weiss first hopped into a beginner's boat called an Optimist Dinghy and ... hated it.
She didn't like being alone in a small craft. When she tried a bigger boat, boys picked on her. She didn't fall for sailing until she found the right partner and the right vessel, and she didn't commit to sailing until she decided to leave the Midwest for college. Somehow, this unlikely track led to Tokyo.
Dallman-Weiss will become the first sailor from White Bear Yacht Club to compete in the Olympics, trading in that quaintness for the immensity of the Pacific Ocean, in the women's 470 (two-person dinghy), along with teammate Nikki Barnes. Barnes and Dallman-Weiss, one of 17 Olympians from Minnesota in Japan for the 2021 Games, begin competition July 28.
"My goal is to be at the top of the podium,'' Dallman-Weiss said. "I've played that over and over in my head, dreaming about the perfect race. I've already been to Japan, sailing on these waters, every night before bed.''
As a child, she gravitated toward basketball, dance and running, and after graduating from Mounds View High School she accepted a scholarship to Wisconsin-Eau Claire and planned to run for the Blugolds. She lined up a roommate and her finances, and then called home.
"She said, 'Daddy, I think I've made a big mistake,' " said Lara's mother, Sue Dallman. "She said, 'I think if I don't go to Eckerd, I'll regret it for the rest of my life.'"
Her father, John Weiss, thinks of that as a turning point in her life. In part because she chose independence and an ocean, in part because she had to handle the logistics of a school change and financing on her own.
At Eckerd College — a small school on the beach in St. Petersburg, Fla. — Dallman-Weiss would turn her former hobby into a passion, then a profession.
Dallman-Weiss has proved that "Olympic dream'' is an oxymoron. She made it to Tokyo through 100-hour work weeks, a long search for the right teammate, intensive fundraising, constant workouts and world travels.
"My Dad taught himself how to sail,'' Dallman-Weiss said. "My Mom put me into the sailing class at the Yacht Club, and I did not like that it was just me in the boat. What I found was that I love sailing with another person in the boat.
"Eventually, my parents got me an X-boat, which is the youth double-handed boat, and I was able to sail with someone else. That's what made me fall in love with sailing. But I never really cared about racing. It was just super fun.''
She would bring her waterproof radio and cruise the picturesque lake. Her equipment in Tokyo will be more advanced.
"I had my serious moments of competition in high school,'' she said. "It was fun to start winning, but it wasn't until college that I started to feel, 'All right, I'm here to do a job.' "
Have to love it
She competed in the nationals all four years at Eckerd, occasionally facing this question from others: How does a kid who grew up in Minnesota become a dominant sailor?
She could have mentioned Lindsey Vonn.
Vonn, one of the greatest skiers of all time, grew up on the mild slopes of Buck Hill in Burnsville, honing her technique until she was ready for the Rocky Mountains.
Dallman-Weiss graduated from scooting Optimist Dinghies around the kiddie docks at the White Bear Yacht Club to hanging horizontally off her boat over various oceans.
"This is really a great place to learn to sail,'' said Jay Rendall, a former coach who has led Dallman-Weiss' fundraising. "You may get more out of dealing with the ever-changing winds on White Bear Lake than with a direct 12-mile-an-hour wind on the ocean, or even a bigger, calmer, lake.''
Rendall played tour guide to a sailing novice over the past couple of weeks, explaining that White Bear Lake became home of the yacht club, and a popular place for vacationers, after trains began running from St. Paul.
Once upon a time, White Bear Lake was "Up North,'' a place to buy or rent a cabin and enjoy the Minnesota summer. John O. Johnson, an inventor and entrepreneur from Norway, emigrated to the United States in 1893 and settled on White Bear Lake, starting a boat-building company after working for fellow Norwegian Gus Amundson.
Johnson would invent the scow, which would become the world's fastest boat, one of which would hang in the Smithsonian Institute.
"This became a mecca for building, pioneering, and sailing technology,'' Rendall said.
The Pillsburys on Lake Minnetonka and Ordways on White Bear were among the wealthy families who invested in the boating culture. Steve Johnson, the grandson of John O. Johnson, still sails the lake.
Last week, Johnson agreed to take the novice out for a race on The Gryphon, a vintage A-scow built in 1963 and believed to be the last such boat built out of wood.
As the crew pushed The Gryphon out of dock, a piece of equipment failed and the crew shrugged. Rendall motored toward a boat on the lake preparing to race, and asked that they take a visitor on board.
"Sailing is a challenge,'' Rendall said. "Your stomach and your thighs are burning. They're just constantly moving and working to get every little speck of speed out of the boat. It's hard work, and you have to be in tune with your teammates.
"Lara meditates every day. She's really into that, and diet and training. Everyone I've talked to says she's the hardest-working person they've ever seen.''
Dallman-Weiss said she spends about eight hours a day on the water. She also works out daily, and has to manage the shipping of her boat to Tokyo and constant fundraising.
Sailing connotes wealth. That can be deceiving, in Dallman-Weiss' case. Rendall has methodically raised tens of thousands of dollars to help Dallman-Weiss buy and ship equipment and fund her team. He noted that, for children, sailing at White Bear Lake is relatively affordable, and that they don't need to own a boat to start.
But qualifying for and competing in the Olympics requires cash.
"We don't have our government giving us funding, so we're fundraising full-time,'' Dallman-Weiss said. "Then we're doing all of our logistics, which means shipping our boat around the world and spending on Airbnbs.
"I'm three years into this campaign and I clearly don't have any money in the bank. We're not treated as professionals and that's something that I would love to change, to see American sailors make a living and be able to treat this as a normal job. To spend all of this time and effort, you have to love it.''
Fan club growing
Sue Dallman calls Lara "the kindest person I know.'' John Weiss, her father, remembers Lara demonstrating strength and determination at a young age.
"When she was 4 years old, we did a lot of bicycling around town,'' said John, the principal race officer at the Yacht Club. "A lot of times, she was pushing me to go faster.''
Rendall said sailing lessons teach children self-sufficiency and problem-solving. On a recent weeknight, a group of boys sailed in "Optis" while others skippered 420s (meaning 420 centimeters). Dallman-Weiss competes in a 470.
She once coached Kate Cox, now the White Bear Sailing School waterfront director. "The kids have just been loving this,'' Cox said. "They realize now that you can go somewhere in this sport.''
Toby Sullivan grew up on the lake and sails at Drexel University. He hopes that Dallman-Weiss' story will bring more children to the lake, and the sport.
Sullivan also was once coached by Dallman-Weiss, and he grasps the difficulty of her journey.
"I have some friends who were trying to get to the Olympics,'' he said. "They're my age, and they finished school one year early to spend every day on the water. Eight hours a day, out on the water practicing, and they still didn't make it. It's an endless time commitment.''
Dallman-Weiss said that it takes a village — or at least a Yacht Club.
"I have a really supportive group of people around me, especially my parents, who are saying, 'You have already accomplished enough, it's incredible what you've done,''' Dallman-Weiss said. "So there can't be any disappointment for me. But it's still all about searching for that medal."