I once read that Michaela Shiffrin said, “Just give me the hill – that’s what I love – me testing myself on the course” In many ways that sums up how I feel about competing. It’s never been about me against someone else or beating someone else. It has always been about seeing what I could do at the feature at that moment in time when you need to do it and trying to do my best. That is the real challenge and the fun. It always has been and it still is. Some people ask, “why are you still competing at your age?” And I say because it always helps me learn and because I really enjoy it! Competition will push you out of your comfort zone, and I for one like to be pushed out of my comfort zone. Being pushed out of my comfort zone and competing, really helps me learn – especially when things don’t go as planned. Team Trials at NOC this past weekend, with less time to practice and varying water levels, was certainly a good example of all the things that make competition fun and exciting, besides presenting plenty of opportunity to learn.
With or without competition, I hope that I will always feel that I can keep learning and growing in the sport of kayaking. Up to now, that has been true and I sure hope it continues. As long as my body feels good and my desire and passion to continue to learn remain, why not?
With the unprecedentedly high water in Tennessee this winter and the Rock Island feature being under water, team trials were moved to the Nantahala River, former host of the 2013 Worlds. All the high water even in North Carolina meant that the river levels kept changing throughout the week leading up to the competition. Thus, each day the hole and eddies were a little different and you had to adjust.
All of this is part of competing in an outdoor sport – you cannot control what the water is doing, what the weather is doing, what anyone else is doing, but you can control your attitude and how you feel about being there and about doing what you are doing. This means It’s up to you if you enjoy the experience and make the most of it – whatever happens. No matter what, there is something to learn and to be gained from being out there. During the last Team Trials at NOC in 2013, a similar thing happened where water levels changed during the competition and it really threw me off. This time, I felt much better prepared. The beauty of this particular competition was that most competitors did not have much time to prepare and you had to deal with that situation – the best you could. Everyone was in the same boat!
Strange as this sound, it is yet another reason to love what kayaking and competition in particular can teach you, especially about life. In order to enjoy the entire experience, you need to adapt as things (in this case water levels) keeps changing. My first US Team Trials was 20 years ago at Rock Island. I was paddling a Necky Gliss. (Has anyone heard of a Necky Gliss?) At the time, that was thought to be a really small boat! In that team trials, I could barely flat spin, but I wanted to be out there and learn. It took me 10 more years to make my first US Team, but finally I did – persistence pays off! Now 10 years after that, I have been lucky enough to make 5 out of the last 6 US Freestyle Kayak Teams. The last one I missed was at NOC in 2013. I admit I had some trepidation about coming back to NOC when I found out the team trials had been moved there, but I wanted to remain open minded and see how things had changed in the last 6 years.
In this team trials, I was really impressed by how many incredible junior paddlers there were – junior men and junior women. The whole level of paddling had been elevated a huge amount since the last worlds – incredible to see that. The future is on fire for paddling and what’s possible in these young paddlers. At the same time, it’s really interesting to reflect on where paddling and boat design has come in the last 20 years! I am so happy that I have been through all of it to learn and experience this change in action. Thanks to everyone who participated in the Team Trials and to everyone who made it possible, and I want to thank Katelyn Green and her mom Karen for coming to team trials – it was great to have more representation from New England at the trials! Well done Katelyn!