Sailing Through Life

Ron White (’71) is not your typical businessman. As the vice president of investments and manager of the South Bend Stifel Nicholaus branch, White loves helping clients manage their financial resources. However, outside of the office, White has a different passion — one that the self-described “Monkee Trainer” spends most of his free time pursuing: racing sailboats, including his own, the Cheekee Monkee.

White has always loved the outdoors, but when a friend took him sailing for the first time more than 30 years ago, he was instantly hooked. In fact, he loved it so much that he spent the next decade chartering boats around the Great Lakes and Florida with his wife, Kathy (Miller ’79), and eventually purchased a boat of their own, a 27-foot trimaran, in 1992. Unknowingly, he was about to sail into new territory.

The following year, he was recruited to enter the boat in an 85-mile, overnight race on Lake Michigan. Once again, he became hooked, but this time on the competitive sport of racing.

Only a few years later, White purchased a newer, yet previously owned boat named the Cheekee Monkee, which already maintained a great racing legacy on the West coast. He has since upheld the winning tradition and has made highly customized modifications to the boat. However, for the avid sailor, winning isn’t everything.

The Cheekee Monkee

“First and foremost, I love the people I sail with and against,” said White. “The range of personalities is extraordinary and the bond we all share is intense.”

White and his crews have competed in more than 70 notable races over the course of the past two decades, receiving countless first-place titles and breaking multiple course records. However, one remarkable race stands out in White’s mind: the 2011 race from Port Huron to Mackinac Island.

“Record-setting races like this one are always memorable, and we have been fortunate to set many race records,” explains White. “[But there were] 215 boats in this race, so being the very first into Mackinac Island Harbor [was] surreal.”

But not all of White’s races have been as exhilarating to complete. In the 2001 Huron Doublehanded Challenge, his F-31R Stampede was the only boat to cross the finish line, but White could not celebrate the victory. Due to unexpected hurricane force winds, tragedy struck when a friend’s boat capsized, resulting in the drowning of the crew.

Despite the difficult loss, White learned several lessons that day, implementing them into his everyday adventures. Some people call him crazy for continuing with his passion, but he does not see it that way.

“It’s difficult to explain why we do what we do,” says White. “We are not thrill seekers or daredevils. We are very well prepared and we have a very close bond. The memories are priceless, the experiences life changing.”

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