Friday, 16 June 2023 17:04

Wylde defies diabetes in pursuit of her foiling dreams

Fiona Wylde, new star on the World Cup circuit Fiona Wylde, new star on the World Cup circuit IWSA media / Sailing Energy

The pump foiling competition was the best way for the riders to work out their frustrations at a lack of wind on day four of the Wingfoil Racing World Cup Silvaplana. Being able to pump the board in light winds is a key racing skill, although the range in abilities across the fleet is enormous. Some look as elegant as a gazelle bounding across the savannah, others are as coordinated as Bambi on ice.

© IWSA media / Sailing Energy: foilmeister Balz Mueller, stealing the show again

While local riders Balz Mueller and Michael Naef didn’t manage to qualify for the gold fleet in the wingfoil racing, they proved their ability to perform multiple laps of the pump foil course flawlessly. The two Swiss riders led Team Ensis to a clear victory in the strictly-fun-only competition of the afternoon.


There’s one day remaining of the regatta, and all riders are pinning their hopes to a forecast of strong winds for the climax of the competition. The big revelation in the women’s fleet this week has been the runaway performance of USA rider Fiona Wylde, making her first appearance in Wingfoil Racing World Cup. Despite her lack of experience on the foil, the 26-year-old is a phenomenal waterwoman, with three world titles in stand-up paddleboarding and a junior world title in windsurfing.


She was making good progress in wingfoil competition up until early 2022 when a bad crash resulted in significant shoulder injury that required extensive surgery. After 18 months of recuperation, Wylde has been easing herself back into competition. The trip to Silvaplana was an opportunity to test herself against the world’s best.

© IWSA media / Sailing Energy: The tight balancing act of getting launched on the board

Wylde is shocked and delighted to find herself leading the women’s standings by a good margin, the American displaying good speed and so far avoiding any big errors or traps on the sometimes deceptive racecourse. Even more remarkable is that she has Type 1 diabetes which requires a lot of planning and management before, during and after sessions on the water. “I was 18 years old and in my first year competing as a professional athlete,” she recalls. “But after a big stand-up paddle race I was feeling really low on energy and just not recovering. I was feeling very tired. I was sleeping a lot. I was constantly thirsty constantly, having to go to the bathroom and I lost almost 10kg in a very short period of time, so I went to see the doctor and asked if anyone ever tested my blood sugar. I said, ‘No, what's that?’ And so he pricked my finger and found that my blood sugar was extremely high. He told me right then that you have Type 1 diabetes.

© IWSA media / Sailing Energy: Clement Colmas - glistening in the rain

“I had no idea what that meant, but when I found out more it was terrifying, scary, because all of a sudden my dream of becoming a professional athlete was in jeopardy, because my body doesn’t work properly.”

Wylde wasted no time finding out what a career in sport might look like, if it was even achievable. “I typed ‘professional athletes type 1 diabetes’ into Google and up came Team Novo Nordisk, a professional cycling team made up of athletes all with type 1 diabetes. My mum got in touch with the team director Phil Sutherland and he got right back to us and said: ‘You know what? Keep going. You’ll figure out ways to manage this.’ And I did. The next year I won my first stand-up paddle title.”

© IWSA media / Sailing Energy: Fiona Wylde - fast, and focused on showing what's possible

She doesn’t pretend any of this stuff is easy though. “I have me insulin pump on me, in a waterproof case under my wetsuit. It automatically gives me insulin depending on my blood sugar level. And between every race I hook in on the harness and I’m sailing along and I pull out my insulin pump to see what level I’m at. I have some sugar blocks in my impact vest, and I might have one of those between races. When we had eight races in a day, it was hard managing all that stuff but I’m working out what’s possible.”


Wylde is thankful and proud to be part of Team Novo Nordisk, still able to pursue her dreams as a professional athlete. “Honestly, sometimes as much as you plan ahead, it still just doesn't work out. You go low, you crash, you go high, you don't feel very good. There's all these different things that happen, but just keeping that positive mindset can really help you get through whatever challenges you have to face day-to-day basis.

© IWSA media / Sailing Energy: Alessandro Tomasi, looking to win his first World Cup of 2023

“Type 1 diabetes hasn't stopped me from chasing my dreams. And I really hope that I can help inspire other people to keep going for whatever they want to do.”

Wylde will be looking to defend her lead in the women’s competition, while in the men’s fleet the 2021 World Champion Alessandro Tomasi (ITA) is hoping to defend his two-point lead over reigning World Champion Mathis Ghio (FRA). Provided the wind comes back, Saturday will be a momentous day for these young athletes looking to make their way in this young, rapidly growing sport.

 More details about the competition at

© 2022 International Wing Sports Association. All Rights Reserved