By Martin Cleary
Competitive paddling is for everyone.
That point was emphatically made Thursday on Day 2 of the 2022 Canoe and Paracanoe Senior Sprint Championships in Dartmouth.
As the globe’s best male and female able-bodied paddlers in kayak and canoe powered their way through heats and semifinals, enthusiastic and confident young athletes with intellectual disabilities had their moments of glory as well on the Lake Banook course.
Twenty-five Canadians representing Ontario, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island as well as two world-class athletes from Germany showed their various talents and love of their sport in two men’s and two women’s exhibition games.
While the 15 athletes from Ontario, 11 from Nova Scotia and one from P.E.I. were selected to their provincial PaddleALL teams, each athlete actually represented Canada and raced for their country during the races.
Developed more than 20 years ago, PaddleALL is a competitive and recreational program integrating people with intellectual and physical disabilities into canoeing and kayaking. In Ottawa, the Ottawa River Canoe Club started its program in 2002 and the Rideau Canoe Club followed seven years later.
The four 200-metre kayak races for athletes with intellectual disabilities included seven Ottawa and area athletes – Sarah Madore, Melanie Manion, Logan Ryan and Kevin Tobin from the Ottawa River Canoe Club, Samuel Galazka and Fletcher Sloan of the Rideau Canoe Club and Darryl Clark from the Carleton Place Canoe Club.
A Carleton University geography student and camp counsellor, Galazka, 21, gave a smooth and steady effort over the calm 200-metre course and placed second in 58.15. Germany’s Sebastian Girke, a multi-medallist at the Special Olympics World Summer Games, powered his way to victory in 48.54.
“It went well. I had a better start than other regattas I’ve had,” Galazka said in a phone interview. “Usually, I have a very shaky start. If I have a good start, it gets me in a position to win a medal and do well.”
He also was inspired by the commanding performance from Girke.
“I’m motivated by that to be as fast as him,” he added. “My next goal is to go faster.”
Like Galazka, Clark also could see and appreciate the dynamic strokes of Girke, who also won the touring race for bigger kayaks in 1:07.53. Clark was runner-up in 1:22.44.
Sloan was in contention for second place, but never made it to the finish as he tipped his boat in his final strokes and didn’t complete the race.
“My race went good up to that point when I tipped. I was not very happy the rest of the day,” said Sloan about his only race at the world championships. “I was too focused on my race and it could have been an imbalance or the waves from the champion (that caused him to tip).”
Madore did double duty on her special race day, placing fourth in the women’s touring 200-metre race in 1:44.65 and 20 minutes later she was eighth in the pro race in 1:48.26. Clubmate Manion was seventh in the women’s touring 200-metre sprint in 2:10.79.
Germany’s Leona Johs, who also won multiple medals at the Special Olympics World Summer Games, won the touring race in 1:26.60. But Johs was defeated by the high-stroke pace from the determined Ashley Thomas of the Cheema Canoe Club in the pro race – 1:05.12 to 1:13.60.
Tobin and Ryan had matching seventh-place results in their separate pro and touring races in respective times of 1:23.47 and 1:41.19.
“Normally, the Special Olympic paddlers are separated in the A, B, C and D categories,” explained L.A. Schmidt, an Ottawa River Canoe Club co-coach. “But we put everyone into the mix with the two Germans. It was a good experience for our youth. I was proud of everyone. They were way closer than we thought.”
“It’s a great day,” added co-Ottawa River coach Andrea Nicholls. “It was a good experience. The racers are still young. But it‘s a great stop for them.”
Sloan, 19, has been part of the Rideau’s competitive PaddleALL program for 10 years, while Galazka has been on the water for six years. They are dedicated to the program, training 10 hours a week over five weekdays and follow the program designed by the coach for able-bodied kayakers.
Chloe Martin, the head coach and co-ordinator for the competitive Special Olympic program at Rideau, oversees 12 athletes on the racing side and another 30 youth and adults on the recreation side.
Athletes learn how to paddle a kayak boat starting in a stable boat and progress to slimmer and faster boats over time. Each athlete is part of a specialized program.
“We have a one-on-one coaching policy. For every athlete, we have one coach. Their coach gets to focus only on them,” said Martin, explaining the Rideau PaddleALL program. “They get private lessons on how to paddle.
“Paddling is hard because of the water risks and some kids are terrified of it. But the coaches give full attention to the kids.”
While Galazka and Sloan had contrasting results in their race, Martin isn’t concerned about the standings, preferring to have her athletes focus on other areas.
“I make sure I tell them not to worry about first, second or third, but how they felt in the race,” Martin said. “Their progress has been amazing. You look at Samuel’s times and he has gone from two minutes to under one minute for his race.
“They are the easiest athletes to coach that I have ever had. They truly are amazing. You ask them to do something and there are no questions asked.”
Martin was unable to attend the world championships, but she watched Galazka and Sloan race on a big screen in the Rideau Canoe Club clubhouse.
“I want them to have a good race,” she said moments before their worlds’ debut. “At the end of the day, I want them to feel good and better their times.”
Also in action Thursday at the Canoe and Paracanoe Senior Sprint Championships, Brianna Hennessy of the Ottawa River Canoe Club placed third in her women’s KL1 200-metre heat in 57.16 and advanced directly to Friday’s A final.
Sophia Jensen of the Cascades Canoe Club won her heat in the women’s C1 500 metres in 2:12.82 and moved into the weekend’s A final.
Rideau Canoe Club’s Toshka Besharah-Hrebacka and Andréanne Langlois of Club de Canoe-Kayak de Vitesse de Trois-Rivières finished second in their women’s K2 500-metre heat and qualified for the semifinals on Friday.
ENGLAND OVERPOWERS CANADIAN MEN’S FIELD HOCKEY TEAM AT COMMONWEALTH GAMES
Canada will play Pakistan for seventh and eighth place on Saturday in men’s field hockey at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, after losing its final round-robin game 11-2 to England.
The match was tied 1-1 after the first quarter, but England scored three, three and four goals respectively in the second, third and fourth quarters.
Defenceman Alexander Bird of Chelsea, PQ., had two penalty corner shots. One of his shots was saved by the goalkeeper and the other missed the net.
The Canadian women’s field hockey team, which has Rowan Harris of Ottawa as one of its two goalkeepers, will meet Scotland on Sunday to determine fifth and sixth places.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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