Team Jolokia

Gaël, the first paraplegic shift supervisor ever aboard a Volvo Ocean 60

For the Rolex Middle Sea Race, Team Jolokia once again shows the strength of diversity with yet another first. The role watch supervisor is occupied, for the first time on this type of extreme ocean-going yacht, to a disabled person.

The crew is to be supervised by Artur, a 25 year-old Polish sailor and Gaël, a business owner and paraplegic.

Gaël, the watch supervisor, Didier, one of the crew, and Pierre, skipper and team manager react.

Gaël Renault, Team Jolokia watch supervisor

Isn’t the job of watch supervisor aboard a Volvo Ocean 60 highly stressful for someone with your disability?

Disability is certainly no hindrance to my role as a manager. The watch supervisor’s job is to ensure that all operations are jointly coordinated. I have to organize, delegate and make decisions, so my physique is not necessarily an issue. Of course, if I could move about more easily I could be more technically involved, so I have to trust people more, while I also need them to communicate in the most effective way possible. My role is to bring my experience to bear on the most difficult situations.

Aboard Team Jolokia, the highly diverse nature of the crew forces us to remain calm, to listen and to respect, all essential concepts if we want to remain competitive.

Didier, crew member

What’s it like having a disabled watch supervisor?

“It’s about the person before the disability. Gaël has extensive experience as a sailor, he is strong and has been able to teach us lots of new things. He’s given us the autonomy and confidence to improve.

His expertise is so well placed that we simply no longer see his handicap. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from his management style and it poses absolutely no concern to me that we have any physical differences. Perhaps we’re not used to being managed by a disabled person in our professional lives, but the notion of disability is in the head more than in appearance. We need to be more aware of a person’s skills, or management style than what they look like!”

Pierre, skipper

Are you taking a risk in having a paraplegic watch supervisor?

“Of course it’s a risk, and that’s what makes it such a positive thing!

Our English friends always say “no pain no gain” — if you don’t bet, you can’t win! This is always the case when you want to be at the top of your game.

The world is changing fast, technologies, mixing populations, the environment. In a sport like sailing where we are supported by corporate sponsors, we are impacted by these changes in the same way as everyone, whether they occur in finance, in the climate or the invention, for example, of a new carbon fibre for our boats.

Adaptation is the key word! It’s always a challenge to step outside one’s normal habits, but ultimately, the real danger is a lack of creativity.

Gaël is disabled — so what? He is also highly abled! His ability for concentration and self-sacrifice are all too rare, a fact that commands the respect of everyone. This is a man who will not give up when the going gets tough, and he transmits that energy to his whole team. On board he brings concentration and investment into the collective. His strengths are far greater than his handicap. Maybe he can’t run, but I have plenty of team-mates who can, and I don’t need everyone to jump at the same time! Athletes like Gaël, are far more precious than any number of fast runners.

You have to know how to see what lies beyond the appearance, beyond the disability.

Beethoven was deaf when he composed his last symphonies, while Rimbaud wrote the majority of his work as a teenager.

Looking for the skills and talents beyond appearances, and showing adaptability in a changing world. This is the key to both high performance and to living together.”

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