By Martin Boyce
Paddling is in Phil Turcanu’s blood. The Ottawa River Canoe Club athlete was introduced to the sport by his older brother, Victor, a past Junior World Championships competitor for Canada.
Though Phil was more intrigued by the balance required in canoeing than the speed of kayaking (Victor’s pursuit), the younger Turcanu gained plenty of insights about 6 a.m. practices and the grind of a season from his senior sibling.
“He pretty much helped me and guided me gently throughout my seasons, and now it’s gotten to the point where I’m the one guiding him,” smiles Turcanu, who topped his brother’s 4-medal haul from the 2012 Ontario Summer Games with 6 golden ones at last year’s provincial games.
Nine years after first testing the waters, Turcanu is racing his most competitive season yet in the leadup to the 2017 Canada Summer Games, despite a wrist injury that limited his abilities earlier this year.
Before Winnipeg, Turcanu will have competed at the July 27-30 ICF Junior Canoe Sprint World Championships in Romania, which he is particularly looking forward to because of his Romanian heritage.
“It’s quite terrifying to be honest,” laughs the 17-year-old, noting it will be his first time competing abroad. “You gotta have your heart and mind into it. Otherwise, it’s not going to end up doing too great.”
The Canadian and CanAmMex Championships are another pair of big events on his schedule this summer, which he views as further steps towards his ultimate goal of making it to the Olympics.
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“It’s a lot of young guys’ dreams, but the more you work hard to get to those international levels, the closer it is,” indicates the Bell High School student. “I’m hoping I’m able to make it up there.”
Like Turcanu, August Sibthorpe’s family has also made a name for themselves in the sport. This year, she’s the one taking centre stage.
Following in her older sister Megan’s footsteps to the Canada Games, the 20-year-old will join the big 5-paddler, 2-coach Rideau Canoe Club contingent headed to Winnipeg. With Sibthorpe brothers and cousins also paddling competitively, the sport has become a whole family affair.
“My sister did it first, then my cousins, so it’s kind of like a fun family thing,” signals the University of Ottawa student. “It makes me enjoy the sport a lot more.” One spot away from a berth at the junior/U23 worlds, Sibthorpe says there’s room for her to improve.
“This year, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I didn’t fully commit to it,” notes the 2014 and 2015 junior worlds competitor. “Next year, I want to focus more on (making a worlds team), make more of an effort to train harder in the winter and be more prepared for races to qualify.”
Heading into the Canada Games, the Glebe Collegiate Institute grad says she is looking forward to working with different crews and potentially finding a great fit.
“Everyone says it’s the most fun trip,” says Sibthorpe, whose club counted five athletes at Sherbrooke 2013 as well. “You get to travel as a team and it’s like a mini-Olympics.”
The other four Rideau paddlers accompanying Sibthorpe are kayakers Joseph Spratt and Lexy Vincent, and canoers Isaac Finkelstein and Rowan Hardy-Kavanagh, alongside coaches Diana Deek and Cheyanne Farquharson.
“I want to figure out what works best for me right now and paddle the best I can,” says Spratt, an Algonquin College student from Lansdowne, Ont. “I’m really looking to put together a good start and just make sure that it all goes well to have a strong race.”
Vincent, a Carleton University student, will be competing in her second Canada Games. The 20-year-old from Regina won a bronze medal for Saskatchewan in the K-1 women’s 1000 metres four years ago and also competed in the 2015 Canada Winter Games as a cross-country skier.
With 15 national medals and five international medals, 18-year-old Isaac Finkelstein is perhaps the most decorated of his teammates. He’s also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Hardy-Kavanagh, a 20-year-old kayaker-turned-canoeist, recently made her World Cup debut for Canada in May, earning 5th-place finishes in back-to-back C-2 500 m races (which was recently added to the 2020 Olympic programme). She will compete in her first Junior Worlds in late July.
The local crew also includes Geneviève L’Abbe of the Ottawa River Canoe Club.
Originally from just north of Kingston, L’Abbe’s road to Canada Games included summers training at ORCC since age 15, and overcoming the challenges of a broken leg after being struck by a car while doing a cycling workout in Florida as well as balancing her intensive engineering studies at Carleton University upon moving to Ottawa full-time in 2016.
Regardless of which jersey athletes wear, there is a family feel that permeates the sport, says Rideau coach Wade Farquharson.
“All of canoeing in Canada is really like a canoe club,” he highlights. “It’s not a provincial team. It’s not the national team.”
Rideau has bigs worlds team too
Junior athlete Isaac Finkelstein is 1 of 6 Rideau Canoe Club paddlers who will compete at World Championships this summer. He’ll attend the July 27-30 ICF Canoe Sprint Junior and U23 World Championships alongside Rowan Hardy-Kavanagh (U23 women’s canoe), Stephen Frodsham (U23 men’s canoe) and Madeline Schmidt (U23 women’s kayak), while Sherbrooke 2013 Canada Games competitors Drew Hodges (men’s canoe) and Natalie Davison (women’s kayak) will attend the Aug. 23-27 senior worlds in Czech Republic.
Hodges was a big winner at the Rideau-hosted Canada Cup 1 regatta on the Canada Day weekend, victorious in the men’s C-2 1,000 m event. The U16 K-4 women’s 500 m provided another major highlight for the host club, with Rideau boats finishing 1-2.