Shipyard Workers As Nervous As Area's Olympic Sailors

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Imagine what John Dane and Austin Sperry must be feeling as they rest in their Olympic village near China's sailing course. Their Olympic dreams are about to come true.

When Mississippi calendars turn from Friday to Saturday, the Gulfport duo sets sail in the Star class preliminaries. Dane and Sperry will be carrying the hopes of two Gulfport shipyards on every leg of their journey.

Arturo Mejia works at one of those yards. He was born in Honduras. But Mejia became a U.S.citizen in 1984.

"I'm proud of the U.S. It's my country now, what can I say. I'm proud of everything in this country," he said.

That pride will be evident as he follows his boss' pursuit of Olympic gold on the internet.

His boss is John Dane, the oldest competitor in the summer Olympics. Despite Dane's age (he's 58), Mejia says, "He's going to win anyway."

Dane is chairman of United States Marine and Trinity Yachts, two shipbuilding plants on Gulfport's Industrial Seaway. He's also a world class sailor who's dreamed about participating in the Olympics for 40 years. His dream comes true when the clock strikes midnight, and Friday turns to Saturday.

People like Conrad Kuebel are in awe of their boss' accomplishment.

"It's difficult to put into words," the company vice president said.

Kuebel has been a Dane sailing companion for 35 years.

"I've never met a more intense individual on a sailboat in my entire career," he thought on the eve of Dane's first race.

For decades, Dane harnessed that intensity to build ships. Now, he has a unique opportunity to partner with his son-in-law and compete in a boat race that always seemed just beyond his grasp.

The shipyard's program manager Tom Bunce called watching Dane's dream come true "just totally awesome."

When asked if Dane and Sperry would come home with an Olympic medal, Mejia barked, "Of course."

Bunce elaborated on that comment.

"They've won on the international level. There's no reason for them not to win in the Olympics. And we're all praying that he does win," Bunce said.

The employees were then asked what kind of Olympic medal Dane and Sperry would bring home to south Mississippi.

"Gold. It's got to be the gold," thought Mejia.

Kim Harvey was a bit more pragmatic.

"I'm hoping they just get a bronze," she said. "But if they don't that's fine. I'm still going to be proud of them."