Exactly one week ago, I drove to the regional airport at 4 am and hopped on a plane to Charlotte, North Carolina. I'll admit, it was a little unexpected, I hadn't planned on attending Nationals this year, because of all of the school I had already missed for World Championships...but, I had come home from school one day to find a plane ticket waiting, and I am not one to turn down a racing opportunity!
So, on Wednesday I arrived in Charlotte around noon, caught a ride to the Whitewater Center with Stacy Hepp (a wonderful member of USA Canoe Kayak), and got down to training! I hadn't been at Charlotte for six months, but I figured that my entire summer of whitewater experience had to count for something. It definitely did, because when I got out onto the competition channel, I was making moves I hadn't previously considered, with ease...what a blast! I continued training on Thursday with fellow paddlers Colleen Hickey and Catie Vuksich (both of whom generously provided me with home stays), and then went to boat control. My gear passed all of the regulations, and I was good to go, I just had to wait and see what course Cathy Hearn (USA's Canoe Coach) would set for the following day's race. My fellow athletes and I were happy when we finally saw the course, because most of the difficult gates were located on the upper half of the whitewater channel, not on the lower section, which is nicknamed "Carnage Corner" for a reason.
I walked the course by myself, making mental notes of how I planned on making each gate, and then I walked the course again with my friend and peer coach, Joel McCune, who helped me solidify my plan. By the time I fell asleep Thursday night, I was feeling confident that I could have an amazing Qualifications Day Race!
Friday came around, and I had to wait until 5:00 in the evening before the race began. I walked the course again, warmed up, and finally, the time rolled around for me to take my first run. I was pleased when I aced the first six gates on the course, but then, I blanked. Going into gate 7, I couldn't remember my line. In my moment of hesitation, I lost the opportunity and I missed the gate. The rest of my run was mediocre, and I finished with the dull feeling of disappointment. I got out of my wet gear, re hydrated and snacked, re-walked the course, discussed with my coach, Cathy Hearn, and then got myself stoked for my second run. I forced myself to entirely forget about my first run, and when I got into the start gate, I just had that feeling, that I knew it was going to be a good one.
My second run passed in a blur. Every stroke, every gate, just fell into perfect place. Not even a touched gate. I finished 1st, with the next competitor in my class 32 seconds behind me...not bad at all! To top it all, along with my making finals, all of my friends had also had impressive race runs, and were also progressing.
Finals Day (Saturday) arrived, and I woke up early to go see the new course that had been set before demonstration runs.The course was incredibly challenging, obviously set with the idea that the top boats were going to have to go all or nothing. I watched former Olympians missing and touching gates-it was intimidating. But, I stuck to my routine, walking, discussing, and analyzing the course, and found myself feeling quite good in the start gate that evening. My first run was fair. I directly manoeuvred the first 3 gates on the course-but then cut a line too close, tried to duck my head under a gate, and missed it- then continued on to speed through the rest of the gates. I knew it was a solid run, minus the missed gate. I knew I could make that gate.
Finals run came faster than I could have imagined possible. I was in my element however, and with adrenaline coursing through me, I powered my way through each and every gate, not taking the time to contemplate what I was doing, just driving. I finished my run in a state of elation! I hadn't touched a gate, and had just beat not only the Women's Canoe category, but half of the Men's category as well!
Standing on the podium that night, I couldn't have been happier. I still feel like I'm on cloud nine, and I've been home for several days now. What a great end to my season!
I would like to add how proud I was of my friends, Peter Lutter, for finishing 4th in the Men's Kayak Category, and Tyler Hinton, for finishing 3rd in the Men's Solo Canoe Category. Great racing you guys!