Paralympic Profile: Paul Callahan, GS Alumnus

We've been profiling current and former Goldman Sachs people who have competed in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, recently concluded in London. For this final article, we talked to Paul Callahan, who competed in the Three-Person Keelboat (Sonar) as part of the US sailing teams at the 2000 (Sydney) and 2012 (London) Paralympic Games.

Paul is a C4-5 quadriplegicparalyzed from the chest down without the ability to use his hands or legsas a result of breaking his neck at age 21, and he uses a motorized wheelchair for all his mobility. Paul worked at Goldman Sachs from 1992 to 1994 in the Securities Division, leaving to join the nonprofit organization Sail to Prevail, where he is now CEO.

Q: How did you come to work at Goldman Sachs? 
Paul: When I went to Harvard Business School, my classmates wanted to do what I did, and I wanted to do what they did. I’d been a fairly successful real estate developer, and they had all been either investment bankers from Goldman Sachs or consultants. I knew I wanted to join the best investment bank possible, and so I only applied to work at one place, which was Goldman Sachs. I became a summer intern and returned to the firm immediately upon graduating. I just thought it was an extraordinary gift to be able to work with the greatest and most caring people that I'd ever come in contact with.
Q: Were you working at Goldman Sachs when you started to sail?
Paul:  Yes. When I first got involved in sailing, I was on vacation in Newport, Rhode Island. Someone asked if I wanted to go sailing, I went the next day and I haven't looked back since. It was an extraordinary feeling of independence and self-confidence that I hadn't experienced in the 15 years or so since my injury. Being a naturally competitive person, after sailing for a year or two I had this gnawing desire to take it to the next level. 

Q:  So tell us about leaving to join the nonprofit sector and Sail to Prevail.
Paul: Leaving the firm to work with Sail to Prevail was probably the hardest decision of my life, but the nonprofit organization had gotten over-extended and needed some help. I felt it was time to take what I’d learned, share it with others and help out where I could. That’s what motivates me to do what I do now: affecting as many people's lives as possible by competing at the highest level in the world. With the thousand or so disabled children that we see every summer at Sail to Prevail, I truly believe they can overcome any kind of adversity if they have the will to win, and I’m committed to sharing this belief with them. It doesn't necessarily have to be sailing. The premise of Sail to Prevail is, on the face of it, sailing, but what it’s really meant to do is instill positive data points in young children so when they go up against adversity in other parts of their lives, the experiences they’ve had with us give them something to lean on and a foundation to build from.

Q: Your story is one of great tenacity, perseverance and optimism.  Where does this spirit come from?     
Paul: I have a basic theory that all of us can do much more than we think we can by an enormous margin. We put these artificial limits on ourselves. Whatever we do, whether it's finance or sports or any endeavor that we undertake, we underestimate our own capabilities by an enormous margin.  When faced with a problem or adversity, there's always a solution. If you don't have the answer, someone else does.