Queen’s student James Juhasz pushes forward toward Olympic dream
On Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, the weather was 23 degrees Celsius and after a long day of training in the wind and the waves, and James Juhasz, 21, reached Kingstonist at 6:15 pm, his time.
His time being in Valletta, Malta, an archipelago in the central Mediterranean Sea, which might as well be a different planet from Kingston, Ontario in the beginning of November.
This difference is exactly why he isn’t in Kingston with the rest of his classmates in the Bachelor of History program at Queen’s University.
The year-round warm weather that Malta provides, and its central location in the Mediterranean Sea, make for perfect sailing conditions almost every day of the year – something Juhasz requires for his training and regimented pathway to representing Team Canada in Laser Category sailing at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
His sights on sailing in the Olympics, however, did not start at birth like the Olympic dream does many young athletes. He was introduced to the sport quite nonchalantly, actually, with a summer camp in Oakville, Ontario (his hometown) when he was 8 years old and his parents, both with full time jobs and needed childcare. Not from a sailing family himself, Juhasz had no idea what he was getting into, but after two weeks in the beginning of July on the water, all he knew was that when his parents asked him if he wanted to continue for another two weeks into August, he did not hesitate with his yes.
“And it just became something I did every summer,” he said with a shrug in his voice.
Then, those summers turned into local regattas, which turned into racing all over the province, which then, when Juhasz was 14 years old, turned into trying out for the Ontario Provincial sailing team. His try out for the team was his first introduction to Kingston’s Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, but certainly not his last.
Throughout his high school years, Juhasz spent a lot of his time on the road to different places all over North America, like Florida, seeking warmer waters, and in the spring, summer and fall, he always ended up in Kingston. When he was 17, graduating high school with honours and gaining a lot of international racing experience, his path to professional sailing became even more carved, making his decision to go to Queen’s University a natural one.
“I decided that Queen’s was the place to go and the choice was made up for me because that’s where all my friends were going. And that’s the city that I knew, plus that’s where the National Training Centre is for sailing in Canada,” he said.
“So that was kind of the way that I was able to continue.”
Although many of his friends are in Kingston and the sailing here is one of the best venues in the world in the summer, it was months where the Harbour front is frozen, and that same wind that is so perfect for sailing becomes so violent that it steals the breath out of your lungs, which took him to Malta.
He has been in Kingston for the past three years and is a member of the Queen’s Sailing Team, but, with a winter that lasts more than six months of the year, the travelling, the full-time course load and the full-time training regimen, the balance that Juhasz referenced at other times in our conversation, was starting to slip for him.
“I was really struggling with having my resources divided between these two things that were both full-time jobs, but I could only allocate 100 per cent of my resources to something and they both demanded 100 per cent of my resources,” he said.
“I found that I wasn’t doing as well as I wanted to in school and I wasn’t doing as well as I wanted to in sailing.”
And with a brain for studying that lasts longer than a body made for full-time professional athletics, the choice for Juhasz was obvious. When you hear him speak about his love for sailing, you can see why his decision to leave behind his friends and family during a global pandemic to pursue his dream was made.
To quote a certain young adult author, John Green, who spends a lot of time writing about love, Juhasz fell in love with sailing the way that one falls asleep: “A little bit, then all at once.”
“I don’t think there was any specific moment, it’s just one of those things that happens and you don’t even notice it happening because it’s happening little by little,” he said.
“Before I knew it, all of my friends were from sailing and everything I did came back to sailing,” he continued.
“It’s something that I have been working towards for long and I didn’t even know when it started that it would be my entire life.”
He started looking for training partners that would help him to find that community he loved so much in Kingston, in Malta.
He met a friend in the Under 21 World Championship in Split, Croatia last October who had come in third. Together, he and this friend started training at Ta’Xbiex, Malta in the Maltese training program run by SailCoach out of the Royal Malta Yacht Club, which is globally recognized as one of the leading private program for sailors in the Laser Class. He is training under world-renowned Olympic sailing coach, Trevor Miller, and plans to be at his peak in four years for the Paris Olympic Games in 2024, a year after he is set to graduate from Queen’s University.
A challenge this year for Juhasz is the uncertainty that came with the pandemic. The European Championships were supposed to happen months ago and, although lucky they could even happen at all, the athletes hadn’t raced since January when they came to the starting.
“It was hard being on the starting line,” he said. “But everyone was also in that rusty state, so it wasn’t as big of a deal as you may think.”
Although Juhasz recognizes the great loss for athletes who were on their way to the Olympics this summer, he is not discouraged by his own practice and goal to make the 2024 Games.
“You really need to trust what you’re doing and have a proper system and a proper routine set down to keep you focused and to keep you going,” he said.
According to Juhasz, he feels like he has hit the gold mine in terms of his training environment in Malta, but that is not to say that he does not miss the waters of Kingston
“Kingston has always had a special place in my heart. Until recently, it had been my home for a while, and even before then I would spend my summers in Kingston, so I partially grew up there,” he said.
“It’s where I met my best friends, and I had many great times there, so it will always be special.”
To stay motivated, Juhasz remembers his competitive spirit and always tries to better himself. In his free time, he teaches at the sailing school, tries to complete his school work and “does whatever Queen’s students do in their free time.”
For more information on Juhasz or to support his fundraising efforts to allow him to continue his journey to the 2024 Olympics, click here.
Jemma Dooreleyers is a contributor for Kingstonist and is in her final year at the Ryerson School of Journalism. She has been a contributor since 2018 and was a reporting intern last summer. She is currently living in Kingston and likes to walk to the Lake and read books.