Saturday, April 3, 2010

The U.S. Open and the Charlotte Open

This spring my family and I made the annual pilgrimage back to the mountains of North Carolina for two of my favorite races of the season – the U.S. Open and the Charlotte Open. I love these races primarily because they are a challenging but enjoyable re-entry to the racing circuit after a long winter on the snow, and it’s always fun to see the members of the paddling community again. We arrived in the misty Blue Mountains surrounding the Nantahala Gorge a week before the U.S. Open. I spent the week training hard on the chilly waters of the Nantahala River. Entering the race weekend I felt confident and comfortable on the course…the first day of racing hit me like a bag of bricks. I was racing both Women’s Kayak and Women’s Canoe, and in both classes I consistently failed to smoothly complete moves that I had made in practice. I was frustrated, and realized that I needed to change my racing approach on the day of Finals. Finals day challenged me – mentally, but also as a difficult course – however, my race runs were clean and quick, and I pulled in a 4th in Women’s Kayak and a 1st in Women’s Canoe. I was pleased with the race – although as a competitor, I’m always seeking perfection – and sad to be leaving the beautiful Gorge, but excited to hit the road to Charlotte to train for the World Ranking Race, the Charlotte Open. Charlotte is home to the U.S. National Whitewater Center, the most difficult and demanding artificial whitewater course in North America. It has a tendency to run race nerves higher than usual – but for some unknown reason, Charlotte also happens to be one of my favorite courses on earth. I trained with several other C1W’s, and enjoyed coaching from Joel McCune and Cathy Hearn, as well as the camaraderie of the generous and loving paddling family that exists in Charlotte. The training week flew by, in a blur of sunny 80 degree days filled with long, hard sessions on solid whitewater – my idea of heaven – and I was anticipating race weekend with a static buzz of nervous and excited energy. The course set for the preliminary day of racing was deceptively simple; easy gates on difficult whitewater, which could have tricked me if I hadn’t raced at Charlotte before. I was racing only the C1W class, and I laid down a totally clean and fairly quick run. I laid down an even faster run in the afternoon, but received and unfortunate penalty for missing a gate. I finished the first day of racing in first place, and moved on to Semi-Finals. The Semi-Finals course was composed of more difficult moves, but ones I had been practicing all week, and felt confident with. My Semi’s run was not nearly as fast or clean as I would have liked, but it landed me in second, to Canadian C1W, Sindy Audet, a good friend and great competitor. I moved on to Finals. I rested up and rehydrated, then hit the course for my run. It flew by. I was still not as clean as I would have liked, but I finished 89 seconds ahead of the next C1W, and I received my second first place in two weeks.
I have had a great beginning to my 2010 racing season – 1st place finishes at both the U.S. Open and the Charlotte Open – I hope it carries through!