Monday, March 28, 2011

The U.S. Open 2011

C-1-W: Colleen Hickey, Myself, Catie Vuksich, on a fun training day.
Getting in those vertical strokes.
Focused on the course.
Pulling heavily during a kayak run.
Ferrying out across the falls...
Reaching deep for a cross-bow stroke....
Standing atop the podium for Canoe! Colleen Hickey, 2nd, and Jennifer Singletary, 3rd.
*All photos by John M. Thompson*
The Nantahala Gorge is beautiful in spring. The surrounding smoky mountains seem to be emerging from a winter of sleep, with mist rising from the valleys, the redbuds’ soft blooms popping open, and the purple slate faces dripping with icy spring water. I spent the last several days of the past week training there, shivering my way through morning sessions on the fast mountain stream that is the Nantahala River, and spending my evenings with fellow paddlers, tucked away in a cabin up the gorge. At the close of the week, it was time to turn my focus away from training, and towards competing…because this past weekend was the first major race of my season: The U.S. Open. Friday evening, I scrambled along the shore of the river accompanied by my marvelous coach, Joel McCune, and analyzed the gates which had been set above the rapids, planning my lines, my strokes, my movement. That night, after the memorization and visualization of the course had been imprinted on my mind, we athletes, parents, and coaches went out to local hot-spot, Guayabitos, for some pre-race Mexican food, and then hit the hay in preparation for the early morning to follow. I arose to the unfortunate sound of a steady rain pattering away on the roof of the cabin. Paddlers are used to getting wet, don’t get me wrong, but it’s never fun to have a race when it’s 40 degrees and raining…this said, I decided to turn the weather into a positive. Conditions that could detrimentally impact some competitors were going to stimulate me. This mindset really helped me, as I made my way down the course in my first canoe run. I finished it, fairly content (although one can always improve), with an hour before my first kayak run. I checked in with Coach McCune, and then sprinted up to the Subaru, with the glorious heat and cliff bars and water bottles it contained, to while away my hour. The kayak run went well, not my best, but not bad at all. I refueled during the brief lunch break, and then geared up for second runs. My canoe run was better than anything I had laid down yet. I remembered how I had felt at Worlds last year – the incredible, raw, powerful, yet graceful sensations that flow through me when I become the instinctive paddler I’ve trained to be. Afterwards, I took my final kayak run of the day (not quite as good as my earlier run), and went back to the cabin to warm up and get (finally!) dry. That evening, the racers gathered for a banquet (a.k.a. pasta!) at the restaurant above the river, and then retired early in preparation for the next day’s race. I awoke, to my relief, to the sound of birds, but not rain. However, the mist and cold, and swollen river, reminded me of the downpour of the previous day. Speaking of the swollen river – things on the course had changed. Several gates had been switched from down-streams to up-streams and changed positions, but more significant than these changes were the changes in the way the increased volume of the water increased the velocity of the course. I walked the course again with my coach, and reworked my plan for my runs. Confident, I watched the demonstration boats, and then walked up to warm up for my canoe run. It went incredibly well, although there was a lot of time I felt I could have cut. By the end of my run, the sun was seeping into the valley, warming the humid river air. My first kayak run was perfect – but at one of the final gates, I mindlessly blew by an incredibly easy down-stream gate…earning myself a 50 second penalty, and plenty of mental self-flagellation. I went to meet with faithful Coach McCune, to review video and refuel, and he helped me to let go of some of my frustration, and focus on the final runs. My final canoe run was an enormous, wild expenditure of energy and impulse…which almost worked, with the exception of one brief, but costly, roll. My final kayak run, however, was just as impulsive and energetic, but it worked. My run time was far faster, and I only incurred one touch (a 2 second penalty). I warmed up in the sun, laughing with the pleasure of finishing a race, and being on a beautiful river with wonderful athletes, and incredible friends and family on shore. I eventually got out of my boat, and got dressed to go to the awards ceremonies – where I was given gold in Junior Women’s Kayak, Junior Women’s Canoe, and (!) Senior (that is, all ages) Women’s Canoe! What an incredible feeling. True, I’ve been snowed in up in Wisconsin for a few months – but I sure am glad to be back on the waves where I belong…and I’ll be back here in North Carolina before I know it (Three weeks!) for National Team Trials. Peace and happy paddling.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Charlotte Season Opener

Pulling over the massive lower drop...
Hitting a wall of water in Finals
The paddling buddies, Simon Ranagan,
Cole Moore, Peter Lutter, and Hailey (Me)
Smiling after a satisfying run
Race Day 1
Training Day
Well, guess what? Today I turned seventeen. Yikes! And I’m spending this birthday, as I have spent my last four, here in sunny and warm North Carolina, how lucky is that? This past weekend was my first time on water (which wasn’t solid) in four months, so I was definitely a little rusty when I competed in the 2011 Season Opener Race, the Charlotte Open. But man was it fun! My balance was not quite what it was at the end of last season, and it took me a little while to convince myself I was no longer skiing, but once I got back into the flow of things (pun intended), I was smiling non-stop. At the end of the race, I found myself in second place for Women’s C1, and 6th place for Women’s K1. Could have been worse! Since the race, I’ve been doing some yoga (wooohooooo!), and maximizing my time on the undulating, rioting course at Charlotte. The next big adventure? This weekend, the U.S. Open in Nantahala Gorge, North Carolina. I’m very excited, and hoping that the training I’m doing this week will pay off.
P.S. On my way over to the U.S. Open, I’m stopping in Ashville, NC, to tour UNCA again….yay college!


Happy to be next to such awesome people! Darren Bush (Center) and Pam Boteler (Right)
What a weekend! Each paddling season is officially begun with the most stimulating event of spring: Rutabaga Paddlesport Shop’s famed Canoecopia. The expo was held from March 11th to March 13th at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin, and drew canoe-loving crowds in the thousands. I’ve been to this expo just about every spring, and this one was spectacular as always. The enormous hall is packed full of vendors…everywhere you look, there is eye-candy for paddlers, boats, paddles, gear, clothes, tents, shoes, the whole works…it’s your basic nirvana. For me, this event is also a great opportunity to catch up with friends, sponsors, and paddling gurus. For the past two years, I have been fortunate enough to be invited to speak at Canoecopia, about my experiences competing. Year One didn’t go so hot. I had some technological difficulties, and was very freaked out. This year was much better. Public speaking still scares me more than competing in World Championships, but I was a bit better at hiding it, and thank goodness, my Power Point functioned relatively smoothly! In addition to telling the stories about Junior and Senior World Championships, I was fortunate enough to have my friend/mentor/hero, Pam Boteler there with me, and she spoke for a bit about the Women in Canoe controversy, and the struggle to be included in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, and I’m already getting excited for next year’s expo!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Winter!

Ski racing in Rhinelander, WI, at the Hodag Challenge!

With my skiing buddy, and one of my best friends, Lily Kraft on New Years
This was a very important event for me this winter: Saving Auto (Pronounced Otto), the
Barred Owl. He had a horrible accident with a car, and is getting better at Raptor Rehab!
Racing at 2011 State Championships in Wausau, Wisconsin.
My incredible parents with me after a race - so much love!
The Tutu Trio: Ski Teammates Jessica Timmerman, Hailey Thompson, and Lily Kraft, all decked out for our last race of the season, the 25 kilometer Lakeland Loppet.
To say I've been remiss about my posts would be an understatement. I have been absolutely pathetic. But I have been pretty busy with other things - let me tell you about my winter!
Well, after Worlds (man, that was ages ago!) the Fall came, and hit me with the full force of Wisconsin's natural beauty. With the golden leaves and crisp mornings came my junior year of highschool, the advent of a whole slew of new classes and friends, ACT and SAT tests (my absolute favorites!), the beginning of college searches, dry-land training (essentially, running up lots of big hills) for my upcoming ski season, and weight training for this upcoming paddling season.
Winter took it's own sweet time arriving. For a person who lives to ski in this season, it was infuriating. But by the time soft snows started falling in December, I was absolutely thrilled to hit the trails. My ski team is rather like my family - after school, just about every day of the week, my team mates and I would head out to the ski lodge, and lay down between 8 and 20 kilometers. The beauty of nordic skiing is that not only does it make winter bearable, it makes winter lovable. I can't even tell you how much I cringe when I hear complaints about snowy precipitation.
Then, on weekends, we skiers and our incredibly supportive parents would make the trek to all corners of the Northwoods, to attend races with names like "The Hinder Binder" or "The Hodag Challenge" or "The Snekkevik" or "The Lakeland Loppet"...definitely a predominantly Scandinavian sport, hahaha.
Skiing has infected my family - both of my parents have taken to hopping on a set of skis in the evenings, and wandering around the woods that surround our house. My dad has even figured out a way to groom our own set of trails (His real name is MacGyver). My mom loves nothing more than to go out to Iola (our local ski area) and spend hours skate skiing. It's phenomenal to have a family passion that keeps us in shape and in love with the snow.
My Competitive Ski season wasn't too bad either - I made it onto Varsity this season, which was pretty exciting, and our Girls Varsity took 4th at state! I'm hoping to get some better individual rankings next season - but that is for the future to determine.
Speaking of the future! Canoecopia is this upcoming weekend! YAHOO! Canoecopia not only means attending an awesome expo put on by Rutabaga the Paddlesport Shop, listening to some incredible speakers, and getting to hang out with a host of cool paddlers - it means that the paddling season is about to begin!
This season is looking exciting already! The U.S. Open, National Team Trials, and an International Canoe Federation Camp in July in France are on the schedule for the season, and depending on whether or not I make the National Team this Year, I may or may not be adding World Championships in Slovakia to that list...holy guacamole!
So, if you get a chance, swing by Canoecopia this year. It's in Madison, Wisconsin, and the Alliant Energy Center from March 11 to 13. I'll be giving a talk at 11:30 on Saturday at the expo, so stop by if you have the time and want to visit (although I give no assurances of the speech itself...public speaking, the fear of all teenagers!), but I'd love to meet you, and see where paddling and the outdoors has taken you in your life.