In mid-January 2021, the tenth week of the Vendée Globe, you are among the first four skippers (out of thirty-three novices) to sail across the Atlantic: what did you experience back then?
Above all, great joy! As the captain of the first Vendée Globe with a disability, I had a “junior” position and wasn’t expecting to be up front. Back then, even if my beginnings in ocean races were complicated at times, I didn’t think of those who doubted me. I do not have a spirit of revenge, I am a competitor: I always prefer evidence by example. On the other hand, during this solo round-the-world trip, I thought of the other skippers, and he told me that for a small passenger or participant smaller than others, certain situations must arise. Difficult. As for my disability, it exists without being: I have always done so, and I adapt to it.
How did you come to sail?
Being from an athletic family, I experienced swimming, cycling, running, climbing, hiking and riding very early on… It was in 1989, when I was 10, when we moved to Guadeloupe, where I discovered a new playground through the optimist. The Caribbean provides an ideal setting for sailing, but I was particularly drawn to the distinctive connection to the ocean and nature that this sport provides. One thing led to another, I competed, until I was selected for the French national team for the Paralympics in Athens in 2004, then in Beijing in 2008, London in 2012, and Rio in 2016. At the same time, I wanted to race abroad. In general, I’m the type to put it down.
Do you see disabled sport as a stepping stone towards competing in a valid version?
Before the Paralympics, I always practiced sailing with healthy people. However, manual training is necessary when it is necessary to compete in a group of equivalent level. No one disputes the legality of women’s competitions. Similarly, disabled athletes have different potentials and sometimes cannot compete in the same category as healthy people. However, I am also a strong advocate of mixed competitions, in which men and women, young and old, disabled and able-bodied, take part… This allows us to expand the range of possibilities, both in terms of performance and evolution of mindsets. In general, I am against silos, against what locks the individual into a category. As proof of that, my journey as a Paralympic champion has tremendous value in my eyes, but it wasn’t him who led me to the Vendée Globe.
For the Vendée Globe, a singles non-stop race around the world, can technology overcome some of the hurdles?
Technology is regularly put into service and this is especially true in the case of the Vendée Globe. The participating mono yachts, the Imoca, are mega machines that are operated by a single skipper around the world. Suffice it to say that we are all disabled, all alone on such a powerful boat. Whether the captain is a man or woman, physically able or disabled, technology comes as a boost to overcome our skepticism as human beings. In my case, it made it as simplistic as possible. Since I was young, I have adapted tools to my disability. Regarding the conditioning of the Imoca Groupe Apicil, I have benefited from the experience of Jean Le Cam, with whom I share the same view. Together, we made the boat faster, and put it in my hands, so to speak.
You mentioned Jean Le Cam, Vendée Globe’s guardianship figure: What is the place of role models in your career?
In ocean racing, Roland Jourdain is a role model for generations of skippers. When I was a kid, Laurent Bourgonne, Luc Peron, Michel Desjouio, and Florence Arthaud also made me dream. Just like Jean Le Cam, with whom I prepared my boat for three years and who helped me a lot. We both established a relationship of give and take: we shared his experience with him, and for my part I provided a more artistic vision. As far as I can remember, I have always surrounded myself with role models and experts who can help me. At the time of the Paralympics, it was my coaches, Jean-Jacques Dubois and Terry Poiret, who played this role. All this to say that, due to the lack of a disabled skipper, my models have always been able to work. Today, I would like to be an inspirational figure for young people with disabilities.
Was it for this purpose that you created the Association Des Pieds et des Mains?
Initially, I launched Des Pieds et des Mains to gather all the support that could help me get into the outdoor races. Then the association turned to others, especially children, to introduce them to water sports. Today, its mission is to make sailing accessible to as many people as possible, not just in sports clubs for the disabled. We all have the right to enjoy navigation together, between the disabled and the healthy, between women and men, in an intergenerational ecosystem. The goal is to rid sailing of its image as a dangerous sport, by assuring the presence of several competent coaches.
Was your disability an obstacle to finding a sponsor?
When I started looking for a financial partner, I was already a three-time Paralympic medalist and five-time world champion. This list of prizes facilitated the passage of the trustees’ checkpoint. But above all, I was looking for a company aligned with my values such as inclusion, engagement, and environment. This is a hell of a disability! Yet I found this partner: Like me, the Apicil Health and Care Group advocates an inclusive business model and a community where, with equal skills, opportunities are the same for all.
Three Paralympic medals, two jobs, tons of projects
On January 28, 2021, the sixth to cross the finish line at the Vendée Globe (but seventh in the final standings due to payouts), Damien Seguin boarded the Sables-d’Olonne … in Captain Hook’s uniform. With a strong sense of self-loathing, the leader of the Imoca Groupe Apicil also has a competitive mind. Despite the handicap of his birth (he has no left hand), this native of the Hautes-Alpes does not forbid any sport and naturally begins to sail, « To join friends in a sailing club “once in Guadeloupe. There, witnessing the triumphant arrival of Florence Orthod in the 1990 Rome Route, young Damien Seguin surely contracted the virus, especially as he learns of the values of sailing, synonymous with nature, transcendence of self, social integration through sport , etc.
Quickly, his Paralympic career began. Barely 25 years old, he won the gold medal at the Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004. Four years later, he won the silver medal in Beijing, before taking the first step on the podium again in Rio, in 2016. Also five world champions Times, 22-winner at the Sailing World Cup and winner of the Tour de France in 2017, Damien Seguin also set off on a second career: ocean racing. Enough to find him in the class of Figaro Bénéteau and Class40, he even took part in the legendary Rhum Road (in which he finished eighth in 2014) and Transat Jacques-Vabre. Not satisfied, Damien Seguin himself offered, at the beginning of 2021, a place among the first in the Vendée Globe. He’s already preparing for the 2024 edition, and he’s still with Groupe Apicil.