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Tuesday, August 19, 2014 - 12:30pm

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Many would think that attending college and sailing have very little in common but not for Don Matthews who is a Mercy College Board Member and advocate for education. Mercy’s mission has kept this avid sportsman hooked. While he has sailing in his background, having participated in two America’s Cups, Matthews said sailing is a lot like navigating through college; you have to cope with ever-changing circumstances, always keeping your eye on the finish line. 

Hanging on the wall in his home is an oil painting of an America's Cup race Don Matthews lost. It was 1962 and Matthews was racing on a boat named the Weatherly. While his boat eventually won the America’s Cup that year, he lost that one race in the competition against Australia – and that is the race he values the most.

Some might find it odd that he has a “failure” hanging on his wall – but not Matthews who said: “In life it is the failures that teach you the most – not the wins. In life, the experience you gain when conditions change, like the wind, is when you really learn your lessons. From a failure you learn a greater sense of awareness. You grow from it and learn how to read conditions and navigate better next time around.”  

Matthews, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame who went on to a career in business, comes from a long line of master mariners having learned how to sail on a 12-foot boat when he was 9 years old. It was then he said he got, “saltwater in his veins.” He became a competitive sailor and raced in the America’s Cup in 1958 on the Vim, and again in 1962 on the Weatherly – the year his team won.  He remembers: “When I was on the Vim I was 26 years old, I was sailing with guys who were much more experienced than me. I looked to them for guidance and they looked to me for leadership. We were a crew in every sense of the word; we depended on each other and worked as one. My first attempt in the America's Cup Trials we lost, but we learned so much.”  

Winning some and falling short on others is a lesson Matthews learned on the open water, and is one that applies to life – particularly education and business. “When attending college, and striving for graduation, you realize just as you can’t control the wind, you can’t control what life throws at you. Sometimes the wind is in your sails, you get the internship you want, but sometimes the favorable breeze leaves you and you struggle and question.” He added, “Both in sailing and in life you are required to make constant adjustments, in an effort to stay on course.”

Matthews said: “You have to continue to keep trying because you are not going to win all the time. The greatest lesson in life is teamwork. On the Vim, I was sailing, but it wasn’t about me- it was about the crew. You have to be patient—teach and learn from others. Sailing or soccer or a work project – anything with more than one person is a team effort. There is always a crew – you can’t succeed without a full team effort.” He went on, “You have to learn how to trust people. The students that come here to Mercy trust us, when they enter PACT or other programs, and it is just like sailing – it is teamwork and trust.”

It is years of trust and teamwork that prepares Mercy College’s students for life after college. Matthews compares it to his sailing career: “In 1958 we raced in the America's Cup Trials and lost-but we learned so much. In 1962, on the Weatherly, we went at it again. We lost one race and we took a step back to remember the lessons we learned – we went on to win that America’s Cup!” 

In the end, he said, the highs and lows teach you about navigating life. Matthews said: “If we hone the life skills we need to navigate life’s storms, we are in the best position to enjoy all the joy and beauty that comes with gentle breezes that life has to offer. Gentle breezes to fill our sails and take you where we want to go.”