Engineering alumnus wins spot on 2012 Paralympic Sailing Team
In 2008, the same year he graduated with a bachelor's degree from LSU's College of Engineering, Mark LeBlanc fell two feet short of a U.S. Paralympic Sailing Team qualification, losing a triple tiebreaker to eventual bronze medalist, John Ruf.
2008 LSU College of Engineering alumnus Mark LeBlanc recently won a spot on 2012 Paralympic Sailing Team.
"It was heartbreaking," said LeBlanc. "You're doing so well and then one mistake and you've lost. It was a six-month culmination where all I did was eat, sleep and sail."
Four years later, LeBlanc clinched his 2012 Paralympic berth by finishing as the top American in trial regattas held in South Florida this past January, beating Ruf in both contests.
"I was the second American in the first regatta, then the top American in the second event," LeBlanc explained. "The finishes were Ruf seven, me eight; then, in the second event, it was me eight, Ruf eleven. Adding up the scores I had 16 points; Ruf had 19. I won the trials."
The regatta, to be held in Weymouth, England, will feature 16 single-manned vessels competing from Sept. 1-6 in roughly two races each day.
"He is very meticulous in his analytical thinking," said U.S. Paralympics Sailing Coach Betsy Alison. She describes sailing like chess, with constantly changing variables, which she said LeBlanc has become quite adept at handling, and that makes him an exceptional sailor.
In spite of being born without a left forearm, LeBlanc grew up in constant competition with his twin brother, Allan, participating in baseball, soccer and basketball. LeBlanc also has a sister, Elisabeth.
"He was always so confident," said Barbara LeBlanc, his mother. "When he was 2 years old, he tied all the doorknobs in the house together. He taught himself to tie his own shoes, and he really figured out whatever it was he wanted to do on his own. He was able to overcome whatever limitations he might've had."
LeBlanc graduated from Jesuit High School in New Orleans, where he trained with other classmates, including his brother, at the Southern Yacht Club while competing nationally.
The sailing genes likely came from dad, also named Mark, who held his own Olympic sailing campaigns in 1968 and 1972, finishing one spot short of qualifying in 1968.
"He's a smart kid. I'd like to say all my kids got my wife's brains," he said.
LeBlanc graduated from Jesuit High School in New Orleans, where he trained with other classmates, including his brother, at the Southern Yacht Club while competing nationally. At LSU he helped run a sailing club that also competed nationally.
Today, LeBlanc is a civil engineer with Shaw Coastal Inc.
LeBlanc must raise more than $130,000 for the Paralympics competition and already has major sponsors including the Albemarle Foundation and the Olympic Sailing Association at New Orleans on his team.
LeBlanc's mother, father, and soon-to-be-wife Caroline hope to travel to Weymouth to watch him compete.
They may have trouble though, since the competition does not allow spectating boats, and in LeBlanc's words, "[We] look like ants running around from the tops of hills."