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Prose and Kohn

ODA grad sets sail on new adventure at Rollins College

Zi Burns played basketball with the Thunder but has taken to sailing with the Tars.

Rollins College sophomore Zi Burns started her sailing career as crew before switching to skipper this year.
Rollins College sophomore Zi Burns started her sailing career as crew before switching to skipper this year.
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Zi Burns does not like to rock the boat. 

It fact, it is now her job to keep it steady. 

In order to get that job, though, Burns had to make a change she never envisioned herself making. 

Burns graduated from The Out-of-Door Academy in 2022. She played girls basketball for the Thunder as a point guard. Her initial plan for the next phase of her life was to continue down the hardwood path, and she wanted to do so at Rollins College. In conversations with the Rollins women's basketball staff, however, Burns was only promised a spot as a team manager, with a chance at becoming a player down the line. 

Burns was not interested in waiting for that chance, she said. She wanted to be a part of the action right away. In that mindset, Burns began exploring the other sports at Rollins, hoping to find a coach willing to take a chance on her and her athletic ability. 

One sport in particular caught her eye: Sailing. Burns said she had attended a one-week sailing camp at Sandy Hill Camp and Retreat Center in North East, Maryland, when she was younger and had enjoyed being on the water. Burns decided to reach out to the Rollins sailing coaches. With a little convincing — Burns now admits with a laugh that she "stretched (her sailing experience) a little bit" — she was accepted onto the team. 

Rollins College sophomore Zi Burns sails with junior teammate Jackson McGeough. The Tars are sixth in the SAISA standing as of April 5.
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The first month required a lot of learning. 

"It felt like I had imposter syndrome," Burns said. "I didn't know how to rig a boat. I didn't know how the wind works. I didn't even know what certain things were called. When people were telling me what to do, it was like they were speaking another language."

The Tars compete in the South Atlantic Intercollegiate Sailing Association as sailing is not sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. In collegiate sailing, each regatta carries its own rules, but there are some constants such as always having two people to a boat. At a team regatta, two schools go head-to-head in each race, with each school represented by three boats at one time. At a fleet regatta, each school submits an A team and a B team of two to three boats each, and the two teams take turns competing in several races, combining their final scores to determine the overall winner.

Burns eventually got up to speed thanks to her coaches and teammates. Before long, she was working as part of a crew, adjusting controls based on the wind and pulling the ropes of her boat's jib, a large triangular sail. Burns spent her freshman year like this, gradually getting the hang of things and improving as a crew-mate. 

Burns liked the experience, she said, but she felt like one aspect of sports was still missing: Leadership. 

Zi Burns said sailing is more of a mental sport than a physical one, comparing it to taking a multiple-choice test.
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In her time as an athlete, Burns said, she's become used to leading. It is what she did as a point guard at ODA, relaying instructions from her coaches to the rest of her teammates and making sure the offense ran with efficiency. Having that responsibility helps Burns fuel her competitive fire, she said. 

When returning to Rollins for her sophomore season, she asked first-year Head Coach Esteban Forrer about switching from crew to skipper, which is the point guard of the sailing world. Skippers steer their boats by controlling the tiller and the main sail, Burns said, and they give directions to the crew, making sure everyone is doing their job. It requires a lot of multitasking and course awareness. Burns thought she would feel more in-tune with the sport by making the switch, and Forrer agreed to let her try.

The move has worked for involved. Burns said she has found fulfillment in her new role, and after some early-season struggles, Rollins has put together a string of impressive performances and has finished second or better at five of its last six regattas, including a win at the Bud Morrow Cup on March 16 in Winter Park. That win saw Rollins finish ahead of bigger schools like the University of Florida, the University of Central Florida and Auburn University. 

At the Florida Trophy regatta on March 23 in Winter Park, the Tars again finished second, and Burns teamed with grad student Angelina Khourisader to win the day's opening race. As of April 5, Rollins is sixth out of 28 teams in the SAISA team standings. 

Though Burns' athletic ability helps, sailing is more about decision-making and communication than physical strength, she said. It is a challenge for it to become second-nature, she said, but it is one she enjoys. She compared sailing to taking a multiple-choice test: The answers are right in front of you, so if you have prepared and you concentrate, you will do just fine. 

Burns never thought she was destined for the water, but she is happy life led her to where she is. 

"This is the first time that this program has been competing at this (performance) level before," Burns said. "It's cool to be a part of that. I hope it continues."



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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