By Mike Humby
That early challenge fostered Cullman's love for sailing, a sport he has mastered since those early days. For the captain of the co-ed team, sailing offers him an escape from the pressures of everyday life.
"When I hit the water, I forget about everything else going on. It's just the wind and the waves," he said.
Cullman grew up on Long Island Sound in Rye, N.Y., and attended the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn. In addition to training and competing on nearby Lake Wononscopomuc, Cullman was a well-rounded athlete, playing on the school's hockey, wrestling and soccer squads.
Cullman is passionate about team sports.
"I've always loved competing. Growing up the middle of three boys, we were always trying to beat each other at everything. Being on any team is special. There's something great about having your teammates back and knowing they will always have yours," Cullman said.
In his senior season at Hotchkiss, Cullman served as captain of the sailing team. He took this responsibility seriously, leading his squad by example and keeping his coaches informed about the status and progress of the team.
Before enrolling at Yale, Cullman won many high school championships, claiming the New England title in 2008, and was the youngest competitor ever to win the U.S. Junior Singlehanded National Championship.
Among his many impressive accolades, the victory Cullman is most proud of happened during the 2008 U.S. Youth Sailing Championship in San Francisco. In this event, 25 of the top 18-year-old sailors in the United States competed over a three day period. Cullman was not expected to win, but when the leader "got nervous" and was disqualified for starting over the line, Cullman made an aggressive move to the lead position.
"I was the underdog and needed the leader to fall in the last race. That was a great win because nobody expected me to be able to do it," he said.
At Yale, Cullman has always held the position of skipper, the person who is in charge of controlling the rudder and mainsail of the boat. In his freshman year, he sailed in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship. The following season, Cullman was recognized as an All New England second team selection, and led his team to a second place finish at the New England Team Race Championships.
The Bulldogs have held a No. 1 ranking for much of this year, only occasionally slipping into the top 10. Despite their solid season, Cullman's goal is for the team to peak come playoff time, especially during the ICSA Nationals at the end of May.
"Like most college sports, it all comes down to the playoffs. Nationals decide everything in nine days, so once you get there, everything we've done up to that point won't have mattered. Going out and winning will be everything," Cullman said.
The Jonathan Edwards College resident is fortunate enough to only live about an hour away from his home. Cullman's dad, Hugh, a venture capitalist, also sailed at the collegiate level and tries to make it to as many competitions as he can. His mom, Mary, a group therapist, was responsible for taking him to many international competitions when he was younger. His older brother was on the sailing team at Brown and has been an important influence in Cullman's life, while a younger brother is on the high school crew team and in the process of choosing his college for next year.
Sailing isn't Cullman's only interest. He and his family and friends enjoy skiing together several times a year in Vermont. For the past three years, Cullman has also been an active participant in "Bulldog Buddies", an organization which gives Yale athletes the chance to tutor students in the New Haven middle schools.
"I don't do it for any specific reason, other than it's something I enjoy doing and I'm more than capable of giving up a few hours a week to help. The kids are great and are ready to learn if you give them a chance."
Cullman encourages other student athletes to get involved in this important community program.
Scheduled to receive his degree in psychology this spring, Cullman is looking forward to the summer when he will live in New York City while taking part in an internship with a sports marketing agency.
"I plan to use what I have learned about human behavior in marketing and advertising," he said.
However, Cullman has one final feat to accomplish before he gives up command of his team – wining Yale's first Team Race National Championship. Accomplishing this goal would be the pinnacle of Cullman's sailing career.
"Winning it for Yale as a senior would be an amazing way to end my sailing career and a way to give credit to all our supporters and coaches," he said, "I have never wanted a sailing championship as badly as I want this one."