Wednesday, April 20, 2011

U.S. National Team Trials 2011

Swinging tight on an upstream gate...
Driving through the waves....
Coach Joel McCune with C1W Natl. Team: Colleen Hickey, Hailey Thompson, Lisa Adams
U.S. National Womens Canoe Team: Lisa Adams, Hailey Thompson, Colleen Hickey

I’ve spent the past ten days living and breathing for my iridescent purple canoe. Not in a bad way at all, simply all of my energies have been poured into training for, and then competing in the U.S. National Whitewater Slalom Team Trials. Trials were held on the intensive, roaring, man-made rapids of the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. I spent the week training two sessions a day, under the precise coaching of Joel McCune and Scott McKlesky (both former elite-level competitive racers), alongside some of my fellow C1Ws, Colleen Hickey, Lisa Adams, Catie Vuksich, and Jen Singletary. Our days were entirely dictated by our training schedules, consuming enough food to keep going, and crashing in blissful sleep at night, trying to escape anxiety about the upcoming three-day race. Practice, however, had been undulating, and by Thursday afternoon (the last day before the Friday-Sunday race) I was feeling only a mediocre amount of confidence about my paddling on the course. I went back to Coach McCune’s house (where some of us competitors were home-staying) and tried to rest a little bit before returning to the man-made river to see what challenging gates the course-designers would set for Friday’s race runs. I made my way to the course, and attended the competitors meeting where we obtained our racing bibs and our start times. As the racers meeting ended, the athletes rushed to the concrete banks of the river to see what challenges lay in wait on the course set for us. I paced the shore, taking in the several crux moves on the course, trying to devise a plan as to how I would maneuver my way through the gates. All of the racers then gathered and watched as several demonstration boaters ran the gates, trying to follow and mentally record the lines they took. Once the demos were over, I found Coach McCune and McKlesky and walked the course with them. They both gave me valuable feedback on my plan, and helped me build up a little confidence for the following day’s race. I slept deeply that night, and woke up the following morning without a trace of my usual pre-race nerves. Initially, I was thrown off a bit, but quickly decided to embrace the lack of butterflies. Several of the C1 women headed out early to do what would become our routine workout, and headed to the course. I watched as first the men C1s, and then the women K1s headed down the course, before doing a final warm-up. Then it was game time. I took my first run, and although the top way flawless, I had a major collision with one of the large plastic, feature-forming bollards on the lower portion of the course…unfortunately, that threw me off line a fair bit. My second run on the first day was better, and I finished day one ranked fairly soundly in first for the women C1 class. That evening, after leaving the venue and refueling, the athletes returned as they had the evening before, to see which gates had been moved to form the course for Saturday’s race. The course appeared more challenging than that of the former race day, but my calm remained, and again I walked the course with McCune and McKlesky, and formed a plan. I repeated my routine, of heading back to Coach McCune’s and resting up for the following day. Day two was exciting. First of all, I became sick. With those wonderful stomach aches that decide to come and wrack your body at the most inopportune of times. That was manageable, however, and the first run of my second day was quite good, without a single touch to a gate-pole. After that, however, a massive storm rolled tumultuously over North Carolina. The race was pushed back for an hour, and only later did we discover that what we experienced was only a tendril of the fully fledged storm which killed 45 people in that region….we observed, with a shout, one of the kayak men sprinting out into the torrential rain to try to recapture his airborne, spinning kayak. I truly am sorry for the horrific loss many of the families in that area suffered. After things quieted down a bit, second runs took place, under a deceptively innocent blue sky. My second run was even better than my first, and again, I found myself clinging to the first slot for women C1. I was still pretty sick, so I went back to our homestay and slept. When I awoke, to my dismay, I had nearly missed demos, so I sprinted hastily to the course. The gates set for Sunday looked challenging, but no more so that Saturday had been. The routine of racing now drilled into my head, I rested for the evening. The next morning came, clear and warm, and I felt deep down that it was going to be a good day of racing. At the course, my first run was nearly perfect in respect to the lines I took, but I felt slow and accumulated four time-penalizing touches. Although I hadn’t felt superb about the run, I found myself still seated soundly in first. That was it, I had officially made the team…the only question of the final run was if I would win trials outright, or take second. As I waited in the start gate, for my final run, I made the conscious decision to, as Coach McKlesky put it, “take the boy lines” a.k.a., the risky, high speed moves that many of the male competitors take. It was a chance, but I knew I had secured a team slot, and so I took it. When the final beeps emanated from the start timer, I took off, hurtling through the gates in a wild exertion of the last ounces of my energy. As I pounded over the last mammoth drop of the course, passing the finish line, I knew that I had just landed the best run of my life. I had, because when I checked the scoreboard, not only had I shaved 30 seconds from my previous run, but I had just succeeded in winning every single one of the six runs of the race. The next several hours blurred together, from climbing to the top of the podium to receive my team jacket and “gold medal” (we were given these beautiful pieces of stenciled glass instead), to going through team processing and deciding which races to attend in Europe this summer. As of now, it’s confirmed, I’m going to the 2011 World Championships in Slovakia this fall! This has been an incredible journey, and I feel so fortunate to have been on it. Now, my wonderful mother and I are driving back into Wisconsin – a bit of a climate shock from the 80-degrees we left behind (here in the dairy state we’ve received no less than eight inches of snow in the past twelve hours), and I’m daydreaming of the places this whimsical sport will take me. So thank you, for all of those who read this, and for all of you who have supported me on this wild ride. Peace and happy paddling.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Coach McCune

Absorbing some words of wisdom.
This post isn't really a story. It's more of a shout-out to one person who has really impacted my paddling career. His name is Joel McCune. He's been my friend, fellow competitor, and coach from the start, and his unwavering kindness has made him one of the biggest influences in my life. So, thanks Coach McCune.