A dedicated group of paddlers with the St. Albert Canoe and Kayak Club will be heading to Ontario in August for the Canada Summer Games.
Ginger Brown, Dillan Evancusky, Jeremy Poulin, Aiden Stock, and Seanna Stock qualified for Team Alberta after each had strong showings at the Alberta Sprint Racing Canoe Association's time trials held on June 4 in Calgary. The association is the governing body for canoe and kayak racing in the province.
Evancusky and Aiden Stock race canoes, while Brown, Poulin, and Seanna Stock are kayakers. The Gazette sat down with the athletes during their July 6 summer camp lunch break. All five help coach the club's youth summer camps, where kids spend a week learning to race canoes or kayaks at Cardiff Pond.
"It’s nice to be able to have a job where we train as well," Poulin said of the benefits of coaching the summer camps. "It allows us to train a lot more than we would otherwise.”
"It’s nice to pass on your knowledge and share something that you really like to do," said Seanna. "[They’re] long days but at the end it’s worth it, I really enjoy it.”
For the Summer Games, the group of five will be joined by 17 other paddlers to make up Team Alberta.
"There’s some steep competition but we’re all willing to train pretty hard," said Seanna. The 2022 Paul Kane grad said she has been racing for eight years, and has switched back and forth between canoeing and kayaking before settling on kayaking again recently.
“I’m feeling optimistic but at the same time we know there’s a lot of work to do," Seanna said of the upcoming Summer Games.
The five paddlers got a taste of their eastern competition a bit early as they travelled to Ottawa for the Canada Cup East event late last month.
"It really opened our eyes ... to the competition out East," Aiden said of the Canada Cup races. "It was fun."
Whatever floats your boat
Aiden said he has been racing canoes for eight years now.
“Originally I was kayaking but it was pretty tough competition when I was young," he said. "There [weren't] as many canoers at the time … so I decided to try it out and stuck with it,” Stock said.
Evancusky said his canoe racing career began just five years ago.
"I was a kayaker originally but I just found that I wasn’t getting better so I started working in canoe, and found that I was improving and I just kept with it," Evancusky said.
One major difference between canoe racing and kayak racing is steering, Evancusky added.
“For canoeing you have to practice a lot more on steering especially because kayakers use a rudder to steer, and canoers have to use a specific technique to be able to steer."
Brown, who will start Grade 10 in the fall, said she has been racing kayaks for 10 years. Brown got involved with the sport after she attended the youth summer camps she now helps coach.
“I’ve always been with kayak [but] I haven’t really tried canoe … I’ve never really liked it,” she said. “A lot more people would like [canoe and kayak racing] if they tried it.
"I think it’s really rewarding because you get to spend the whole day at a lake, and we get to travel a lot and do lots of competitions and see different places."
Indeed, the five athletes do a fair amount of travelling for their sport. Besides the events throughout Canada, the athletes said they have gone to Florida and Portugal for training.
For head coach Zak Mahmoudi, watching the athletes he has coached for years succeed in the sport is incredible.
“It’s so exciting to see these athletes shining right now," Mahmoudi said.
"We thought after COVID [it] would be so hard to get back in shape and keep motivation super high for the athletes but … the athletes are really mentally strong."
Heading into the Canada Summer Games, Mahmoudi said, "Our goal is to aim super high."
"We want them to shine and perform and we want our athletes to represent Canada and be on the national team."