Thursday 17 July 2014

A New Adventure

So it’s official. I won’t be going back to school this September.

Way back last November I went to lunch with my friends Adam van Koeverden, Mark Oldershaw and their coach and my former National Team teammate, Scott Oldershaw. We chatted and caught up a little as we hadn’t really seen each other much since August and then Adam asked me a question that left me speechless. They wanted to know if I’d take a leave from my teaching job and help them, full-time, prepare for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

If you’re from the sprint canoe/kayak world and reading this I don’t need to explain how flattered and honored I was. Adam and Mark need no introduction. Adam is a 4-time Olympic medalist in K1 (gold and bronze in Athens in 2004, silver in Beijing in 2008 and silver in London in 2012). Mark is a bronze medalist in C1 in London in 2012. That these guys thought my involvement in their day-to-day training could help them perform better in 2016 sort of blew my mind. I mean they both clearly already know what they’re doing and Scott is an excellent coach who has already led them to the podium. I said as much to them and Adam explained it to me as he saw it and as they had discussed it.

Adam van Koeverden

Mark Oldershaw

In all likelihood, Rio will be their last Olympics. Adam is 31 and Mark is 30. They’ve both been on the podium before and if they’re going back they both want to do everything they can to win. The top guys that they are racing have surrounded themselves with the best support teams they can put together – coaches, massage and physiotherapists, sports medicine doctors, nutritionists, sport psychologists, sport scientists. They’ve left no stone unturned in trying to create the optimal training environment. While the National Team provides access to much of that for its athletes, the one thing it hasn’t been able to do for Mark and Adam is provide them each with their own coach. With Adam paddling kayak and Mark canoe they can’t effectively train together on the water so Scott has had to divide his time between them. Sometimes they are training in different locations and obviously Scott can’t be in two places at once. And with Scott a “podium coach” in charge of the 1000m programs for the National Team he has responsibilities to athletes beyond Adam and Mark. Adam, Mark and Scott all thought that having someone available all the time for coaching support was an important step in creating an optimal training environment. Beyond that this coach had to be someone they respected, trusted and whose opinion they valued. It needed to be someone who could provide a fresh set of eyes and ideas while respecting and not upsetting the already extremely effective team they had become. They all thought that I was the guy they needed.

I left the lunch on a high, excited about the possibility of working with them and feeling pretty good that three guys I respect so much thought that I could add value to what they were doing. However I honestly didn’t expect it to pan out. I already had a job that I liked and was reluctant to give up. Furthermore the fact that I had a mortgage and other bills to pay meant that I couldn’t take a full-time coaching job at lower pay no matter how much fun and fulfilling it would be. I was also concerned about how it would impact my own paddling. I’d become hooked on SUP, was racing pretty well and getting a lot of requests to do clinics and SUP coaching, which I was really enjoying.

I took some time to think it over and decided to just wait and see if the guys could pull the funding together to make a really cool idea actually become a reality. It took quite a while but eventually by late February it looked like it might all come together. Both CanoeKayak Canada (CKC) and Own the Podium, the major funder of Canadian high performance sport, were on board in principle. I spoke at length on the phone with Scott Logan, the High Performance Director for CKC, and liked what I heard. Through these conversations I think Scott grew more comfortable with the idea and how my involvement would affect not only Adam and Mark but also the environment around the entire National Team. In March I flew to Florida for a week to attend the National Team training camp, touch base with the guys and Scott on the water and meet with Scott Logan and the CEO of CKC, Casey Wade, on land. Everything felt right and this cool opportunity was one step closer.

By late April I’d seen a draft contract and by the end of the school year signed the contract and began working on the water everyday with the guys. It’s been amazing so far. I’ve known Scott for more than 35 years, we were teammates together on the National Team, and he is a ton of fun for me to coach with. He is also one of the smartest guys I know and his record of coaching success speaks for itself. The exchange of ideas and observations while coaching with him on the water is incredible. I’m quite comfortable with being the junior coach in this arrangement and assisting Scott in any way I can not only with Mark and Adam but with the many other outstanding National Team athletes training out of the Burloak Canoe Club.

The initial goal is to help Mark and Adam perform their best at the World Championships in Moscow in early August. From there we’ll sit down as a team, assess where we’re at and plot out a plan leading towards the 2015 Worlds and on to Rio. Both Mark and Adam are currently paddling well and both turned in extremely high level performances at the National Team Selection Trials in Montreal at the end of June. Both were unpushed in their races so their performances there were all the more impressive. I’ll be honest and say that I’m not sure that I’ve made much of a contribution yet as the guys were already so far along in their preparation for this year when I joined them, however I’m there everyday offering everything I can. I’m excited to head to Europe with them for the pre-worlds camp in Lithuania and then on to Moscow. I last raced in Moscow in 1991 so it will be cool to see the course again. Moreover it will be a real privilege to be a member of the Canadian Team again after so many years and a cool experience to be there as a coach. It is something I haven’t yet done at this level. I take very seriously the opportunity to contribute what I can to a positive team environment for the entire Canadian Team.

For all my friends in SUP who might be wondering whether they’ll see me as much now that I’ve taken on this new role, the answer is that I am hoping you’ll actually see me more. I have no intention of giving up SUP or stopping racing or doing clinics. In fact I am hoping this new job will actually provide me with more time and flexibility to take some of the SUP stuff I’ve gotten involved with to the next level. For instance if you’ve followed my blog you’ll note that I’ve managed to get a lot of stuff up during the summer months, but always seemed to disappear once the school year started and I started working from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm or later everyday. I’ve got a lot more time on my hands to blog now and, being a lot more immersed in paddling now, am going to have a lot more inspiration and ideas for cool stuff to blog about. I’m going to have a lot more flexibility to do races and clinics for most of the year, although there will be times during Adam and Mark’s competitive season when I can’t do either. As for my own paddling, I am going to have way more time on my hands to train and opportunities to paddle much more throughout the year in warm climates, as the guys will be training in November and February/March in, most likely, Newport Beach and Florida.

Stay tuned for much more frequent blog posts in the coming months. I’ve got lots coming for SUP from the perspective of both training and technique and I’ll be posting as well about Adam and Mark’s training and racing. Don’t expect anything too detailed, as I don’t want to give away everything we’re doing to the competition, but I’ll certainly try to take everyone along on the ride with me so you can all follow the guys on to Rio!