Mahaney grew up in Maine as an avid skier. He attended Middlebury College in Vermont, walking onto the men’s lacrosse team. He was an All-American honorable mention as a freshman goalie, and was named an All-American in 1985. Despite focusing on lacrosse in college, he spent his spare time sailing.
After Middlebury, Mahaney switched gears to the water. He skippered the United States team that won silver at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He was also named the Rolex Yachtsman of the Year.
“It was fun when we sailed at high levels like world championships and someone would say, ‘I was an All-American at Boston University or the Naval Academy,’ and I would say ‘I was an All-American at Middlebury,'” Mahaney said. “They’d ask if we had a sailing team and I’d say, ‘No, it was in lacrosse.’
“I really, really enjoying competing. I really like challenges and the whole process of sport much, much more than the beauty of it. I like the hard work and grit and the time nobody sees.”
Mahaney has also competed in snowboarding, winning a national championship in his age group in 2004. He also cycled all 2,241 miles of the Tour de France in 2005.
He has a similar appreciation for art—it’s as much about the process as it is the final product in his eyes.
In preparation for the 1995 America’s Cup trials, Mahaney commissioned Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein to create a design for his team’s boat, Young America. Lichtenstein rendered a mermaid across the boat’s hull, complemented by a spinnaker painted with rays of sunlight. Even though Young America didn’t qualify for the America’s Cup, the 70-foot hull lives on as part of Young America: Lichtenstein and the America’s Cup, an exhibition at the Middlebury College Museum of Art. The exhibition also showcases a selection of paintings, photographs and prints adhering to the nautical theme, as well as a documentary film by the award-winning Theodore Bogosian following the events of this historic commission.
“I never got a chance to look at the boat,” Mahaney said at a small press unveiling on the college’s campus. “I’d walk up to it and it was against the dock, and then I’d get on it. I never had a chance to appreciate the boat as much as I have over the last couple of years, so walking out and seeing it with the reflection [in the pond]—it’s stunning.”
The concepts of hard work and a challenge resonate with Mahaney in both sports and art. It’s how he’s been able to be successful no matter what sporting challenge he undertakes. It’s also why he appreciates getting all of the pieces together for the exhibition, highlighting Lichtenstein’s process and product in creating one of his largest and final works.
“The intellectual aspect of sport is probably where I was the most successful,” Mahaney said. “Using those same capacities of doing the unimaginable like putting together this art collection is what I really enjoy.”
In the sporting realm, Mahaney has gone back to his first love: skiing. His next challenge is to ski on every continent during a single around-the-world trip with some of his friends.
“I can’t help but challenge myself,” he said. “My results won’t be the same as when I was younger, but it’s always been about, for me, doing the best I can do then other people get to measure it.”