When their daughter Stephanie was born, Nancy and Dale Roble brought her home from the hospital, and her father sailed his MC Scow around Lake Beulah with "It's a Girl!" written on the sail.Note to my salt-water readers: "scow" does not refer to a barge, rather to a class of bilgeboard racing boats, the largest of which are capable of towing water skiers.
"Little did he know this gesture was indicative of what was to come," Stephanie Roble said.
From her first lessons as a child to a top-ranked sailor in the world, Roble told that story to a New York Yacht Club audience back in February when she won the prestigious U.S. Sailing Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year Award.
Note there is much to recommend life in the Lake District.
Competitive youth sailing is as common as the lily pads that frame the clear, spring-fed Lake Beulah, but taking the sport as far as Roble has is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement around this area, which is known for the East Troy Electric Railroad and apple picking at Elegant Farmer.I'm not sure about that once-upon-a-lifetime, what with Sally Barkow also getting her start at Lake Beulah. What would be once-upon a lifetime is the trolley stopping at Beulah Siding for spectators to walk to the lake for a major regatta. That last happened when now-gone hotels sent carriages to the siding to meet the interurban.
The Inland Lakes have been developing high-achieving sailors since before the interurban.
"Still, there's a history of good sailors to come out of Wisconsin and the Midwest," said Roble's college coach, Mitch Brindley. "Even with the short season, they're highly motivated. Someone like Steph has always made the most of every opportunity she's had whenever she was on the water."Yes, when I moved to Illinois, I started sailing at Lake Geneva. Talk about a learning curve, and a lot of the accomplished sailors began developing their local knowledge young.
Roble's first lessons were at the age of 5 at the Lake Beulah Yacht Club's sailing school in the Opti Sailboats. Growing up on the lake, she was always in a boat or a kayak because the water was essentially her front yard. All her friends and neighbors also sailed.
Because the lakes are close together, there are chances for the youngsters to pit their skills against similar-age competitors on Geneva or Delavan or Pewaukee or Little Cedar. Then there is the rest of the world.
Sailing is a way of life on Beulah. All summer long, white sails fill the lake with children, teenagers and adults practicing, or sailing in regattas. While they look picturesque against the blue sky and puffs of clouds, they can get very competitive.It's a pretty good special bubble, as the rest of the world discovers from time to time.
"I remember winning my first race with my friend Katie Porter," Roble said. "And I was just like wow, that is a really cool feeling.
"And then a couple of friends had discovered the national sailing. For us, it was like, wait, there are Optis outside of the Midwest? We had no idea what was going on. We were in our own little special bubble."
Wisconsin is known for good sailors, from [Olympian and America's Cup defender Buddy] Melges to Sally Barkow, to Brian Porter and Annie Haeger, who is attempting to secure a spot on the Olympic team.It's necessary to be deliberate. Scow or dinghy racing is like playing chess on an elastic board, thanks to the shifty winds and shore effects. The one wrinkle inland lake racers have to adopt to elsewhere is current or tide.
"A lot of people don't realize the strong sailing community that we have in the Midwest," Roble said.
Brindley said Roble's diligence and focus have pushed her to this level of sailing.
"She's driven like any successful person is," Brindley said. "She puts the time in and the hard work. She's just like all the other top athletes — it is just that her chosen field is sailing.
"She's very calculating and deliberate in her actions on the water and with her tactics and strategy. And she doesn't make a lot of mistakes because of it."