A tale of two sailing sisters en route to Paris 2024

The six-year campaign of two Canadian sailing sisters to compete at Paris 2024 has come with an unexpected windfall: the sport has brought them closer together than they’ve ever felt before.

This past March, Georgia and Antonia Lewin-LaFrance from Chester, Nova Scotia felt more than a little wind in their sails as they qualified to represent Team Canada at the Olympic Games. Then, the sisters did something that didn’t come all that naturally to the two of them after they finished in eighth place at the 2024 49er FX World Championships in Spain.

“We hugged many times. It’s funny hugging in sailing gear because you’re in all this equipment with life jackets and wetsuits. You’re like the Michelin blimp,” Antonia says.

They couldn’t believe what they had just accomplished after the six-year campaign to get to the Paris 2024 Olympics. More importantly, they couldn’t believe they were hugging like they were.

“It’s funny because when we were growing up, we weren’t super close sisters. We were not best friends most of the time, like some siblings are,” Georgia says.

Anybody with siblings can probably relate. Blood is thicker than water, so says the old expression, but sibling relationships are often complex. Some siblings are the best of friends, some may not have much of a relationship, and, in the worst cases, some may not even talk. Others are somewhere in the middle.

Sibling relationships can be complicated by small things like growing up and fighting over the bathroom or hot water to bigger issues like fighting over the place in the family, favouritism from parents, or simple sibling rivalry.

To understand how far these two sisters have come in their relationship, we have to go back to the beginning, before their sailing partnership was formed in 2018.

Georgia, now 24, knew she wanted to be an Olympic sailor from an early age after getting her start at the Chester Yacht Club in Nova Scotia.

She wanted to follow in the wake of her big sister Antonia, now 26.

“I was at the age to start sailing and Georgia was still too young. So, I think my mom told me recently I’d go to sailing and Georgia would be jealous,” recalls Antonia.

The two youngsters both became passionate about the sport but sailed off into the wind in different directions. The sisters both had decent results in at the youth level internationally, but not together. Georgia was in two-person boats, Antonia in individual boats. 

Six years ago, when Georgia started thinking about going to the Olympics and looking for a new partner to be her crew, she turned to her sister.

“Antonia was definitely the most serious option I knew because I thought that no matter what, we would both fight to try to make it work,” says Georgia.

There was one big problem though. Antonia was studying pre-med at university at that time, and though she hadn’t really articulated it yet, she was done sailing.

“I said I was taking a step back, but I was actually quitting,” Antonia says.

“I think in my second-year university or something like that, Georgia needed a crew for some competition. I think it was U.S. Nationals. I thought, I’ve never crewed before. It’s going to be interesting. It turned out to be great.”

Antonia decided to give sailing one last shot. For Georgia, it meant having someone on her boat she knew better than most.

“We both had our own separate youth experiences. Antonia was a good youth sailor. Having someone I believed in and trusted was important to me. I really wanted to go to the Olympic Games and be successful,” she explains.

But when the sisters started sailing together, some longstanding issues came back to the forefront, Georgia says.

“We are polar opposites if you ever met us in person. When we started training together, we kind of realized how different we were. I’m, like, super type A personality.”

Antonia interjects, “You can’t say that. I’m type A as well. It’s just you are super organized and borderline perfectionist.”

In the first few years of their Olympic campaign, it wasn’t smooth sailing at all for the sisters. They say it wasn’t until last year that they started to figure out how not to butt heads.

That’s when they started working with a registered social worker.

“Because we are sisters and siblings, we had problems with our personalities meshing.  There are way more blurred lines,” Georgia says.

Antonia adds, “We fought, some big fights. We needed someone to help us with our relationship. She was like a marriage councillor almost. That has been a game changer.”

Georgia says the social worker got them to see the differences in their personalities and helped them appreciate why one of them might see things one way, and the other sister another. 

Antonia says the social worker also got them to reflect on issues that first emerged when they were kids growing up.

“[When we were kids] Georgia went to hit me as my little sister, I went like this (puts her hands up over her head to protect herself) and Georgia wacked my elbow and hurt herself.  Georgia started crying and I got into trouble. I had a lot of deep seeded anger about situations like that.”

Georgia says the social worker helped them buy into their roles, separating when it was time to be teammates versus siblings and recognizing the times when they could be both.

“In our boat, I’m basically the captain, like my say is supposed to be the final say. But we also had issues because Antonia is obviously the older sibling and in a normal relationship, the older sibling would often have the final say.” 

“Every sailing team fights,” Antonia says. “They’re lying if they say they don’t fight. We just had them more often and more complicated maybe.”

That’s why when they finished eighth overall in Spain and moved a step closer to Paris, Antonia says it was a moment she will never forget.

“I’ve never seen Georgia express emotion that way. She’s usually very stoic.”

“I usually don’t express much,” Georgia nods.

“But when we were crossing the finish line, she was laughing and crying at the same time. I was in shock. It took me a second to realize I was crying too,” Antonia says.

Georgia was thinking about how the result was their way of giving thanks to all the people who believed in them and supported them. The regatta was a reminder of all the ups and downs on the journey and Georgia couldn’t get the smile off her face for more than a week afterwards.

READ: When the Olympic Games are a family affair: Canadian siblings chasing their Olympic dreams

“I felt the happiest I’ve ever felt. I was proud of myself, but just as proud of Antonia,”

Antonia says, “It felt surreal that we did it but also that the person that we’re closest to now is each other.”

At Paris 2024, the sisters want to ensure that if they don’t succeed, it won’t because of their relationship. They want to be on the same page, which has been the thing that has caused a strain on their relationship at times.

“Earlier on in our campaign, I realized I wasn’t ever really able to relax around Georgia in a way you can around someone you’re really close with and I bet you Georgia also felt the same way,” Antonia says.

“But now we’re in a different place and I can be completely open and honest with Georgia. The amount of stress that takes away from me is phenomenal. It feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and a weight I didn’t even know existed until now.”

That close feeling is something the two sisters hope to bottle up so they can share it at Paris 2024 and beyond.