Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it had been close to two years since Flatwater North paddlers travelled Outside for regattas.
That changed the Aug. 6-8 weekend when six members of the team travelled to Regina to paddle in the Prairie Divisionals. The athletes were Bruce Porter, Joel Girouard, Julianne Girouard, James McCann, Rogan Parry and Kaleb Parry.
Gavin Jaeger-Freeborn, Flatwater North’s head coach, said for the paddlers’ first competition since 2019, they all performed great.
“With COVID, a lot of athletes had to take time off because psychologically, it’s quite a lot to train and know that you might not compete for a year, two years,” said Jaeger-Freeborn.
“Some athletes trained through it and made huge improvements.”
One of the things Jaeger-Freeborn believes that kept the paddlers engaged throughout is the Yukon’s diversity of paddling races.
“Up here, it’s great because paddling is a lot different,” said Jaeger-Freeborn. “There’s a lot of different boats that compete out there so a lot of our athletes still had longer distance events.”
The Prairie Divisionals happened later in the season, said Jaeger-Freeborn. The biggest accomplishment for the team at divisionals is every Flatwater athlete qualified for Nationals in Ottawa from Aug. 23-28.
“This is the first year we’ve had this many athletes ready to go,” said Jaeger-Freeborn. “Our goal was to get everybody to go, but we weren’t too sure. That’s great that everybody got to go, everybody did really well.
“They came in the top 10 of their division against athletes from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.”
Flatwater North has sent paddlers to Nationals in previous seasons, but this is the first time the athletes will compete under the Flatwater, and Yukon banner.
It isn’t much time between races and Jaeger-Freeborn said he’ll be toeing the line between training and giving the athletes ample time to recover.
Despite this, Jaeger-Freeborn believes the Flatwater athletes will be ready to go in Ottawa.
For Bruce Porter, competing in Regina then making Nationals brings things full circle.
“Regina was actually the first place that I ever went for a regatta back in 2017,” said Porter. “It was exciting to be back there. I’ve been back there a couple of times and I really like the course and the people.”
After being away from competition, Porter said it was nice to be back in that atmosphere.
“It was definitely interesting after being away for two years, just hearing the starters and that sort of thing.
Now a veteran of several regattas, Porter said it was still nerve-wracking to be back at it.
“I didn’t know how I’d do since I haven’t really competed against these guys in a couple of years,” said Porter. “It was like ‘how are we doing’ but we got to the finish line.”
Porter said his best event was the 200 metre kayak race where he got fourth. He also got fifth in the 500 metre race.
In Ottawa, he feels those will be his strongest races.
“The 500 definitely felt the best to me,” said Porter. “It’s a fun race because it is short enough you can sprint a long ways, but long enough that you start feeling it halfway through.”
Porter said he’s “very proud” to be representing the club and Yukon at Nationals for the first time.
Kaleb Parry was the team’s lone canoeist at divisionals. It was also his first-ever Outside regatta.
“That was my first big competition, my first real competition,” said Parry. “It was all pretty new to me but travelling was nice.”
For his first divisionals, making Nationals is a big accomplishment for the young paddler.
“It doesn’t feel real yet,” said Parry. “When I was racing and realized I was going to Nationals I was so excited. That was my one goal.”
Parry’s best race in Regina was the 500 metres where he beat his personal best by five seconds. He got second in that race.
In Ottawa, Parry said he’d still feel the most confident in the 200 metre distance.
Joel Girouard said it was great being back on the water competing.
“Finally,” said Girouard. “It felt amazing to be not here competing against people we paddle with.”
Girouard thinks he has still plenty to show after his performances in Regina.
“Some of the races I could have done a little better,” said Girouard. “But I did pretty good in my races. I felt good about it.”
The small gap between divisionals and Nationals isn’t ideal, said Girouard.
“We won’t have as long as we should to keep training and get a little better,” said Girouard. “But that’s fine.”
His best event was the 200 metre race and is the one he’s feeling most confident in heading into Nationals.
Nationals will have a different feel this year; because of the pandemic, there will be no team boats.
Contact John Tonin at email@example.com