June 12, 2012

In 2008, Mark LeBlanc (2008 BACH ENGR) fell two feet short of a U.S. Paralympic Sailing Team qualification, losing a triple tiebreaker to eventual bronze medalist, John Ruf.

“It was heartbreaking,” says 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 explains. “The finishes were Ruf seven, me eight; then, in the second event, it was me eight, Ruf eleven. Adding up the scores I had sixteen points; Ruf had nineteen. I won the trials.”

The regatta, to be held in Weymouth, England, will feature sixteen single-manned vessels competing from Sept. 1-6 in roughly two races each day.

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’s mother, Barbara, says Mark’s being a twin, combined with his unyielding determination and perseverance, helped her and her husband normalize his life from the beginning. Mark also has a sister, Elisabeth.

“He was always so confident,” says the mother of three describing Mark’s aptitude in problem solving from an early age. “When he was two 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,” she adds.

“He is very meticulous in his analytical thinking,” says U.S. Paralympics Sailing Coach Betsy Alison. She describes sailing like chess, with constantly changing variables, which she says Mark has become quite adept at handling, and that makes him an exceptional sailor.

Mark’s father, also named Mark, says they never told their son he couldn’t do anything. “He’s a smart kid. I’d like to say all my kids got my wife’s brains,” he says.

The sailing genes likely came from dad, who held his own Olympic sailing campaigns in 1968 and 1972, finishing one spot short of qualifying in 1968.

Mark 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, and 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 Mark compete.

They may have trouble though, since the competition does not allow spectating boats, and in Mark’s words, “[We] look like ants running around from the tops of hills.”

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Ben Wallace, a student in the Manship School of Mass Communication, is the entertainment director/producer/anchor of The Ramen: The Soup for College Students on Tiger TV. 



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