Friday, July 29, 2011

The First Month of France

So many things have happened since Junior National Team Trials. For one, getting on a plane and flying to France. Once I arrived I joined a group of international competitors (from Chinese Taipei, Thailand, Finland, France, South Africa, Mexico, Germany, Senegal and Canada, and of course, USA) to begin intensive training. Our first week of training was spent in Montreuil Sur Mer, a small French town in the north, about fifteen minutes away from the Sea. Training was wonderful, learning rapidly from our multiple coaches, Vincent, Manu, Thibaut, Christophe, Gonz, and Pierrick. We usually had two long sessions each day, and would intersperse on-the-water training with beautiful trail runs (past ruined castles, pastures, and turquoise rivers), visits to the sea to swim, and exceptionally French (and exceptionally fun) activities like Cart du VoilĂ©, which is like sailing except for the fact that the sail is attached to a small cart, rather than a boat, in which you fly across the beach. The first week passed, and we took our group to a town tucked far up in the French Alps, called Bourg Saint Maurice. Bourg is famous in the paddling community for being the most challenging natural river which is raced on…in the world. What seems to always be left out of the descriptions is the absolutely breath-taking place through which this river tumbles. The mountains plunge upward, grazing the sky with their snow capped, craggy peaks, and the valley is full of wild flowers and highland pasture, and then of course, the Town of Bourg St. Maurice, which is so quintessentially Alpine it almost seemed unreal. My first impression of the town was that I had died and landed in heaven, and the impression was only made more substantial after my first training session on the river which flows through town. The river is absolutely marvelous, a roaring torrent of icy-blue, glacial water pouring over mammoth drops and forming crashing waves. Initially, training in Bourg was quite the barrier for me. The water was massive, and mentally, my approach wasn’t aggressive enough. If I got one thing out of Bourg – it was learning to approach each training session as if it were an international competition. After a few days, my coaches decided my abilities were good enough to attack the upper section of Bourg, which is even more powerful and fast than the lower section. I ran it smoothly, with no mishaps, and was incredibly stoked to have made peace with such an impossible set of drops. Our time in Bourg seemed to pass to quickly, lost in the rapid succession of training sessions, afternoon climbs up the surrounding mountains, swims in alpine lakes, and visits to Bourg’s incredible gelato shop. Soon, we were back in Montreuil, where we repeated our first week of training. The days passed, and we traveled here, to Metz, which is in eastern France, close to the German border. The town is lovely, a Venice of Northern France, with lovely, intricately carved churches and palaces threaded by green canals and rivers which are home to hundreds of white swans…so perfect it’s almost clichĂ©. The course here is nice – smaller drops, but fairly quick water. I have been competing in French Nationals as a fore-runner (demonstration boat, as I am not a French citizen). My first day went well, with two solid runs (one which would’ve landed me in second if I were competing officially), but that night I suddenly became really sick with a burning fever. The next morning I woke up with terrible body aches and a head ache. I raced poorly in the morning, and spent the day trying to sleep in the car as the rest of the team from Montreuil competed. By the end of the day I was exhausted, wracked by feverish burns and chills. Once I got medication, I felt much better, but this morning I found out that I was still pretty weak when I attempted to race. My run was painfully slow, simply because I had run out of strength. I am hoping to make a full recovery soon, so that I have a good chance at performing well in Prague for World Cup #4. I shall share more as the journey continues!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Junior National Team Trials and the Departure to Paris

My lovely friends Sam and Sarah from Colorado...

C1W: Gold Medal

So first come the house guests. It’s a dead-giveaway, the prelude to races in Wausau, when the number of paddlers residing at my house spikes, as it did about a week and a half ago. They came from the East coast, the south, and the west to compete in Wausau’s Junior National Team Trials this past weekend. In addition to living together, we trained together in the days leading up to the event (when it consistently poured rain for about 5 days in a row). The weather wasn’t ideal, but the athleticism and camaraderie exhibited most definitely was. The Friday before the race the weather miraculously cleared into the crystalline blue skies with puffy white clouds which are so classic of Wisconsin in June, much to my relief. Those beauteous skies held out as racers nervously anticipated the race. As procedures go, we went through the gear checking process, watched as the race-day gates were set, and then prowled the banks of the river, planning our lines and watching demonstration runs. Once activity by the river quieted down, I headed home for a calm, early night before the race. I had three marvelous friends from Colorado and Washington DC staying over and the four of us watched video of demonstrations and discussed the multiple approaches to the race the following day. With a plan whirling through my head that night as I drifted to asleep, I dreamt of whitewater.
Saturday morning arrived just as blue as the previous day, and I headed to the course. I was set to race in both Women’s Canoe and Women’s Kayak so I knew the day would sap whatever energy I had. I hopped in my sparkly purple canoe up above where the water plunges into the rapids to warm-up. As I paddled, what nerves I had accumulated dissipated and I felt myself sink into race-mode. Before I knew the time had passed, I found myself launching out of the start gate into the first run of Junior National Team Trials. I passed through the gates smoothly and without any major incident, but I finished disappointed and feeling slow. I pushed the feeling down and immediately prepared for my kayak run. The kayak felt far more successful, and after my run I grabbed some food, rehydrated, and located a nice shady patch where I could await the second runs. The afternoon came about and I found myself in the start gate again. I gripped the t-grip of my canoe paddle in frustration with my first run, and this time, when I broke the start line, I channeled my energy. When I passed the finish, I found that I had shaved 11 seconds of my time! Overjoyed, I hurried to my kayak and the fourth run of the day. I performed, but not as well as intended…my energy was sapped. I finished the first day of competitions in first for Canoe and in third for Kayak, and not overly disappointed. The course was re-set and I walked it several times that evening before repeating my quiet pre-race routine. The next day, I altered my plan. My Canoe runs the previous day had been good enough that, if I laid down a good first run, I could skip my second to conserve energy for kayak. The plan worked, as I finished my canoe run in first, so I decided to channel everything into my kayak performance. My first kayak run of the day wasn’t going to cut it – I remained in third, and in all honesty, I wanted gold. So that afternoon, with the full knowledge of how close the race had become, I powered out of the start gate. I maneuvered through the course with an intense focus, and passed the finish line with a time six seconds ahead of the next competitor! So, to my surprise and pleasure, I finished Junior National Team Trials with not one, but two gold medals…what an incredibly fortunate experience. These past three days have been just as whirlwind, even if I haven’t been competing – I’ve been packing up my bags because tomorrow, I fly out to Europe for the next two and a half months. I’ll be competing and training in France, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia; and I can’t even say how thrilled I am for the experience to begin.
So thank you…check in every now and then, and I promise, I will have more stories to share. Peace,