Extreme profs

Toss your stereotypes of professors away. Derek Rodriguez meets five whose achievements in sports rival their academic accomplishments

Sail away, sail away, sail away
Photos: Mark Teo
Assoc Prof Federico Lauro
Environmental Sciences

The champion sailor helmed his yacht, S/Y Indigo V, from South Africa to Singapore when he accepted his position at NTU. Collecting DNA samples of microbes in the waters of the Indian Ocean, he combined his two interests and transformed the six-month voyage into a scientific expedition.

Sailing is in his blood. My dad was a prominent member of the International Sailing Federation and head of all sailing judges in the world. He was a judge at two Olympic Games and my mom has a skipper’s licence too.

Home is where the boat is. Honestly, I can’t remember the first time I stepped into a boat. My parents would go out sailing and would say to me: “Here, here’s the helm. Have fun!” I just grew up doing it.

Getting paid to race. I entered the Italian national youth team at 14. When I grew up, I sailed first for the national navy team in Italy and then professionally, getting paid to race on big yachts. The first time I won the Nationals in Italy was the biggest heart-stopping moment of my life. I was 22. I won the Nationals three times in all – twice in Australia and once in Italy.

Sailing vs science. I entered university when I was 24. Before that, all I was doing was sailing. I realised that I would fail my second Olympic trial and so I thought of what else I liked. Searching for a career that would keep me close to the sea, I found marine microbiology. But I am still a much better sailor than a scientist!

Sea view. Sailing to me is about freedom and the love for the sea. When you are out there, it’s very humbling to know you’re playing with forces that are much bigger than you. Through it you gain an appreciation of the outdoors and the forces of nature.

Marrying two loves. On the expedition from Cape Town to Singapore we took water samples all along the way to investigate the impact of shipping lanes on microbial communities in the ocean and establish the first ever ocean health baseline in the Indian Ocean. For the first time, I managed to merge my two loves, and it was a fantastic feeling.
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Keep calm and sail on. I think 70% of high-level sailing is in your head. Good sailors make the boat go fast; brilliant sailors make the boat go fast when they are behind. When things are going wrong, stay calm, so you still know where to go and where the best wind is, and which tactics and strategies to use.

I dreamed a dream. My ultimate goal is to win the World Championship. I came pretty close in 2012 when my boat was leading going into the last leg, but something broke and we finished fourth.