Kevin Hall is used to navigating unpredictable situations. Each time he competes as a sailor he faces a perplexing set of variables, when an error in judgment might cost several places in the standings.
Beginning today Hall, 26, from Ventura, faces such circumstances off the coast of Savannah, Ga., as he attempts to best 49 other sailors and earn the only U.S. Olympic berth in the Laser class.
But waves and sudden wind shifts are not the only obstacles Hall will face.
Even if he emerges victorious from the nine-day trials, Hall must still win special permission from the International Olympic Committee to compete in the Atlanta Games this summer.
Every two weeks, Hall injects himself with a banned substance in order to stay healthy. "Not something I want to do," he said by telephone this week from Georgia. "Something I have to do."
Between 1990 and '93, Hall had three operations to free his body of testicular cancer. His abdominal lymph nodes and both of his testicles have been removed.
Having lost his body's natural source of the male hormone, Hall needs regular injections of testosterone to maintain his health. Without them, doctors have said his bones and ligaments will become brittle, his muscles will weaken, he will become sexually dysfunctional and, over the course of time, his life will be in jeopardy.
But the IOC considers testosterone a performance-enhancing drug. Athletes caught using it can be sanctioned and suspended from competition.
Patience and a feel for the wind and water are the primary attributes of top small-boat racers. Strength and endurance also are factors, but Hall said, "This is not a situation where I'm trying to gain an advantage. I'm performance-replacing, not performance-enhancing."
For the past month and a half, Hall has been submitting urine samples to the IOC at different intervals during his two-week cycle, hoping to prove his hormone levels fall within normal parameters.
Terry Harper, executive director of the U.S. Sailing Assn., the sport's national governing body, said the IOC granted Hall a waiver to compete at the trials.
That came as news to Hall, who was unaware he needed special clearance unless he qualified for Olympic competition. "Nobody's told me much," he said.
The IOC is allowed to grant waivers to athletes who are using banned substances in their treatment against diseases.
Hall started the process by petitioning the USOC Substance-Abuse Committee for his eligibility early last year, but he was rebuffed.
Wade Exum, director of the USOC drug-control administration, sent Hall a letter last July that said a waiver probably could not be granted in his case.
Since then, Hall's hopes have ebbed and flowed like the tide.
Believing the chances of gaining eligibility would improve, Hall went public with his story early this year.
"That was tough, because this is a very personal kind of cancer to have," said Hall's mother, Susanne, a Ventura physician. "It was tough for him explaining some of the details, that things like sexual dysfunction were factors, but we felt it was important to put all the cards out on the table."
Hall believed public scrutiny might "expedite things with the IOC." Instead, the opposite occurred.
In the eyes of a few high-ranking officials within the U.S. Olympic movement, Hall unwittingly damaged his appeal by talking about the specifics of his case.
"You don't usually broadcast the fact that you're taking a banned substance, even if it's for medical reasons," one official said. "It puts the IOC in a real bad position. His fellow competitors are not going to look at it and say, 'Oh, that poor guy, it's OK if he's taking a steroid.' "
Anita L. DeFrantz, a member of the IOC's executive board, said the organization is "typically very circumspect" when it considers granting an appeal. "This one got out in public, which is not the way we operate," she said. "If he had told me his problem right from the start I probably could have gone right to the [IOC] medical commission with it and he might have an answer by now."
Several Olympic officials familiar with Hall's circumstances believe he will be allowed to compete in the Olympics if he qualifies.
Hall said the biweekly injections of testosterone he receives do not push levels of the hormone in his system beyond acceptable parameters. If anything, he said, near the end of his cycle he is far short of what would be considered a normal level.
"I definitely get a little drained toward the end," said Hall, who is a muscular 6 feet, 175 pounds. "I just have to pay closer attention and concentrate a little more on what I'm doing."
In the Laser class, competitors sail solo in 14-foot dinghies. Based on his victory in the U.S. Olympic Festival last summer and his third-place finish at the U.S. nationals last September, Hall is considered among the favorites in the 16-race Olympic trials.
Hall has been sailing since age 5, competing since he was 7, and holding close a dream of participating in the Olympics for almost two decades.