What started out as an adventure on the high waves with his grandad, could end in Olympic glory for adopted Prestonian Robert Murray.
The native of Northern Ireland – who has lived in the North West of England for the past five years – is one of the UK’s brightest young sailing talents.
A former junior world champion – a title he won on Lake Garda in Italy – he has his sights set on making it big on the senior international stage.
His target is to make a name for himself over the next few years competing on the national and world stage, so ultimately, he will be in a position to sail for a gold medal at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Despite his ambitious plans, the 24-year-old – who turns 25 later this month – admits he will always remember those fun afternoons spent on the water with his grandad Brian.
“I’ve been sailing since I was a toddler – it was my grandad originally who got me into it – he liked his sailing,” said Murray.
“He used to take me out on a lake in Enniskillen, which is in County Fermanagh.
“My grandad had his own little yacht and back then it was more about a kid and his grandad going out, having a laugh and a joke.
“We would go out on our little adventures – as he used to say.
“He taught me a lot back then in terms of sailing, something which has stood me in good stead.
“But it all really progressed from there and I ended up doing some sailing lessons. My grandad along with my grandma Theresa eventually paid for me to get some sailing qualifications.
“My granddad, grandma and mum Bernadette were very supportive of me when I was younger.
“They sacrificed a hell of a lot to get me to events and to get me the gear which I needed.
“If it wasn’t for them, I definitely would not have got to where I am.
Armed with the necessary boat skills, Murray was able to go out on to the water by himself.
“I got my first boat at the age of seven,” he said.
“It was an Optimist and the best way of describing one of them is – a bath tub with a sail in it.
“I got on to the Optimist circuit using that, did not really get to world-class level, it was just sort of competing around Ireland.
“I then moved on to the Topper boats and ended up representing Northern Ireland. I was on the junior team for five years and got all the way to the World Championships.
“I became the first Irish sailor to win a World Championship race.”
Despite his obvious talent at the sport, he was forced to put his sporting ambitions on hold as he concentrated on his education at Devenish College.
After leaving school, Murray struggled to find work to fund his sailing career so made the big decision to move to Preston – where his Uncle Peter lived – in January 2012.
Working in a number of bars and pubs around Preston initially, Murray landed a job at Sovereign Blinds, which has shops in Chorley and Leyland.
Fortunately, his boss Steve McCarthy is a big fan of the sport and is keen to help the young sailor achieve his ambitions.
“I was on the Northern Ireland squad – we used to train at Belfast Loch,,” said Murray, who currently trains at Leigh and Lowton Sailing Club.
“I was doing well as a junior, but it felt like it was kind of bad timing because of my age. I was in my final year at school and I had all my exams that I needed to focus on.
“Obviously if my sailing was not going to work out then I need an education to fall back on.
“So I kind of stopped my sailing to focus on school.
“After I left school, I then needed to get a job.
“My uncle lives in Rufford so I decided to come to Preston.
“Back home in Ireland, there is not really the same opportunities work-wise .
“I knew what road I wanted to go down – that was to get a good job and get back into my sailing.
“I worked in bars around Preston for a few years, trying to save up some money.
“I have worked in the Baluga Bar, Review, The Twelve Tellers.
“I have now got to that stage now where I’ve managed to save up enough to buy a boat. I’ve been back in the gym hammering my fitness and got back on the water.
“I’m feeling pretty confident with the way things are going.”
One of Murray’s biggest idols is Britain’s record-breaking Olympian Sir Ben Ainslie, who won gold medals at four consecutive Games from 2000 to 20012.
He is also a big fan of the Brazilian Robert Scheidt, who also won Olympic gold and enjoyed some memorable tussles with Ainslie.
“Many years ago, I used to speak to Ben quite regularly,” said Murray.
“We have actually competed at the same events.
“He’s definitely my biggest inspiration and I am a bit like him.
“If you read his book, which I have, he was quite shy as a kid, but to see what he’s done in his career, it is inspiring.
“I also like Robert Scheidt. I will always remember those two going head to head at the Olympics. They had some great battles.
“It was just great watching that and the tactics that went into it, the skills that they both had.
“Just to achieve a quarter of what they did during their careers, I would be happy with that.”
Murray’s short-term target is to achieve a high ranking nationally, which could see him win a place on the British sailing squad and opens up funding opportunities.
“I need to get on the circuit this year and hopefully get on the British sailing squad , which is where the funding is. That will be my route in.
“By the end of this year, I am hoping to have achieved a top-50 national ranking which will put me in a good position to qualify for the team.
“That will give me five years to put in a proper campaign and potentially secure a spot at the Olympics in Paris.
“It is a very exciting time for me, I am hopefully going to be hitting the ground running. I won’t be holding back.
“I am aiming to go up against the big boys and sail in events all around the country and in Europe.
“I could be potentially coming up against the current Olympic champion, other Olympians, world champions.
“I will be stepping into that circuit because that’s where I need to be.
“If I sail with people who are faster than me, I am going to improve.”
Murray is hoping to attract sponsorship, which will boost him enormously as he begins his Olympic journey.
“When you have got something like the Olympics to aim for – there are not that many people who are in a position to say that they are able to do that.
“I am hoping people will see my enthusiasm and love for the sport.
“The thrill and excitement of sailing is what draws me to it, especially when it’s a really windy day and I’m clinging on for dear life so to speak.”
If you are able to help Robert Murray, then please contact him on 07534739134 or email firstname.lastname@example.org