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Designing Big League Whitewater in Oklahoma City


KD"Big League" means different things to different people but here in Oklahoma City, the expression represents the transformative process and collaborative spirit that brings top-tier lifestyle amenities to the community. A few short years ago, not many people would have thought Oklahoma City would be home to one of the top teams in professional basketball, destination of a Marathon that hosts 27,000 runners while raising a million dollars to support the Oklahoma Memorial and of course become home to USA Canoe/Kayak and a World-class paddlesports and rowing venue.

When I started traveling to Oklahoma City four years ago, the public vote for MAPS 3, the continuation of the city's penny sales tax that would fund eight "quality of life" projects including a $60 million investment in the Oklahoma River and bring a whitewater venue to downtown, was just a few weeks away.

The community's enthusiasm and appetite for progress translated to a "yes" for MAPS 3 and a "Big League" opportunity for paddlesports.

The idea of constructing a whitewater river where one does not initially exist is certainly more common today compared to when I started racing in whitewater slalom in the early 1980's. Back then, the idea of paddling on an artificial channel in the U.S. seemed like a distant dream.

Bold vision and hard work led to the development of channels in North Carolina and Maryland but as I didn't spend time at those venues during design and construction, I never understood how these venues really came together. I would see pictures and hear reports in certain phases of construction but without being on the ground, I never gained true focus of the project's final outcome.

Different story here in Oklahoma City. Check out this short video to see the 1:12 scale model of the Oklahoma City whitewater course - you'll not only get a sense for the actual whitewater but the process driving this incredible project:


With USA Canoe/Kayak's involvement in Oklahoma City's whitewater center, the opportunity to work with Scott Shipley and the Design team has been a fantastic learning experience. First, the standard for navigating through concepts, ideas and details within the talented and diverse group of team members is set high. The design process has been innovative and inclusive yet focused and decisive. Second, having worked at the Oklahoma City Boathouse District for two years now, it's easy for me to see how the end product will fit into the spirit of the venue and the city. 

With this project coming into focus, it's exciting to be building Oklahoma City into the near-term plans of our National Slalom Program merging both opportunities for the sport with the progress of Oklahoma City. Therein lies the sweet spot of Big League Whitewater.

With gratitude,

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Living with Purpose & Passion: The Impact of a Friend & Colleague


Each day I come to work at USA Canoe/Kayak, I am grateful for the people that make this organization grow and improve on a daily basis. The work is demanding, requires unconventional hours and tasks that go far beyond what is listed in your job description.

In the process of working with these outstanding people, you understand the purpose and ideals that drive them, both inside and outside of USA Canoe/Kayak. And the more I learn about their pursuits out of the office, the more impressed I am. For example, Michele, with whom I share an of office with in Oklahoma City is the reigning Surfski World Champion and Mac, our National Sprint Development Director, is training for a full-distance Ironman triathlon.

describe the imageMany of our Members know Gerald Babao as a fixture at USA Canoe/Kayak who wears many hats, can solve a variety of problems and as a humble advocate who holds our team together. Outside of work, he's a terrific father, husband, friend, athlete, and sports junkie. As some of you may know, he's also a cancer survivor. Read more about Geralds story --> HERE

What impresses me about Gerald is the opportunity he has created to serve others born of out of a life-threatening challenge - the opportunity to raise awareness; the opportunity to rally for a cause; the opportunity to serve others.

Last year, he launched a 5k running event in Charlotte that raises money for the Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma Research Foundation. He is now preparing to take the event to a higher level in year two:

But Gerald's efforts don't end there. This weekend, Gerald attempts to join the 1/2 of 1% of the U.S. population to run a marathon as he competes for the "Dove Men+Care" Team at the New York City Marathon. Two weeks later, he will be on the startline for the Richmond Marathon. His first and second marathons within two weeks of each other fueled by purpose and passion for a critical cause.

In the four years I've worked with Gerald, it's hard not to feel humbled, inspired and grateful. My respect and admiration for Gerald's pursuits continues to grow and I couldn't be more excited to personally support his efforts.

If you'd like to support Gerald's effort, please do so right here -->  Donate 

With gratitude, 

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Adopting a High Performance Attitude


"I am the greatest; I said that even before I knew I was."

Everyone knows about Mohammed Ali, one of the most vocal and successful boxers of all time. He came across as pretty arrogant and over-confident, but the one thing we can't deny is that he was the greatest when it came to self belief. He talked the talk, and walked the walk, but most importantly, he also did the work, which allowed him to totally believe in his ability to beat his competitors.

C1 @ Nationals 2013

If you have put in the time, and prepared to the best of your ability, leaving no stone unturned in your groundwork, then you have every reason to be confident in your ability to perform.

This all starts with adopting a High Performance Attitude. Waking up every day, make the commitment to take on an approach that is directed at being as professional as possible.

First thing is to be positive! You have chosen this path, so go out there and enjoy it!

Motivation starts within, and having a positive attitude each and every day will go a long way in determining how successful you are in achieving your results in the long run. Staying motivated also takes daily effort, so have a method to continuously work at this element (starting with a positive attitude is the first step).

Then you need to take ownership of your future. Ultimately it is you that is responsible for how well you do. "Your attitude determines your aptitude"!

Taking ownership means taking responsibility for yourself. Aim to get the most out of your training, your recovery, your nutrition, and manage your body and mind to enable yourself to give out your optimum performance.

early morning

To perform consistently, you need to prepare consistently. This is the basic building block of any successful paddler.

Aiming to be consistent, firstly means committing to your coach's program and attending all the training sessions. Missing a session here and there might not seem like much at the time, but just missing one 80 minute session a week, adds up to about 64 hours in year (on a 48 week year) That's 2.5 days of training time!

Secondly, be consistent within the session. What you do in each and every training session will count towards race day. Training sessions have goals, that you should strive to achieve. Aim to be in the present, know and understand why you are doing something, and make sure you are working in that direction.

And lastly, be consistent in your approach. Assume that positive attitude every morning, and work at your motivation levels every day. Always have a solid warm up routine, and cool down, not just physically, but mentally prepare yourself as well.

Feel free to email me with any questions you might have or topics you would like discussed. My contact email is or you can sign up for these posts to be emailed to you by clicking on this link:

High Performance Tips

That's it for today.

Train hard, be positive and most importantly, have fun!


Canoe/Kayak University: Sprinting towards Higher Education


One of the High Performance metrics that I pay attention to is the number of our canoe/kayak athletes who continue to train and compete into their collegiate years. Unforutnately, this number is far too low in the U.S. as I've watched many bright junior racing careers come to a halt at the end of high school for lack of university-level opportunities in paddlesports.

Pan Am Team 2013 PRThe development of collegiate paddling opportunities for prospective U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes is critical to USA Canoe/Kayak's High Performance program. Most of our international competitors benefit from the financial support of their governments including educational opportunities within the university system. As the "Under-23" World Championship events (targeting ages 19-23) increase in importantance within the International Canoe Federation, collegiate paddlesports programs here in the U.S. must play a stronger role in Olympic and Paralympic journeys.

describe the imageWhile cultivating university-level opportunities is a long-term initiative in the U.S., the sport is making encouraging progress. Just over three years ago, Oklahoma City University became the first University in the country to make Canoe/Kayak a collegiate varsity sport and support the program with scholarships opportunities. This program aligned with the development the Oklahoma City Boathouse District and the opening of the Devon Boathouse and High Performance Center, which serves as home to Oklahoma City University's Canoe/Kayak and Rowing teams.

Point LomaNow, more good news comes from Chris Barlow, 1992 Olympian in Sprint Kayaking and Head Coach of the San Diego Canoe/Kayak Team. One of USA Canoe/Kayak's Platinum Gold level clubs, San Diego Canoe/Kayak Team has reached an agreement with Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) that ecourages canoe/kayak athletes to pursue their goals on the water and in the classroom with the opportunity to be considered for for tuition support while attending PLNU. 

Read more about the San Diego Canoe/Kayak Team/PLNU agreement ----> HERE

describe the imageWhile there is still much work to do in creating more collegiate paddling opportunities, it's important to recognize positive momentum when it happens - many thanks to San Diego Canoe/Kayak Team and PLNU.

Such progress isn't just a victory for our athletes but the schools win too. Not only are Oklahoma City University and PLNU recognized as leaders and key partners within the Olympic Family but they stand apart in the academic community too with unique and creative programs and ambassadors which resonate with potential students, Alumni, faculty and staff.

While a sustainable Collegiate program doesn not happen overnight, our Clubs are now better positioned to develop partnerships with colleges and universities in their communities that build on the success we are seeing in California and Oklahoma. 

With gratitude,

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New Heights in Event Production: Success at the Nantahala River


describe the imageAs the competitive season winds down, there is often a period of reflection about the state of canoe/kayak events on the international stage. My Facebook stream is loaded with posts and links to blogs and articles about taking our competitive events to the next level.

In September, I had the opportunity to attend three International Canoe Federation (ICF) World Championships in a three week period. With "behind-the-scenes" access, I saw each host organizing committee taking different paths to producing premiere ICF events. Two of these events, Canoe Slalom and Canoe Marathon World Championships, come to the U.S. next year. 

But the other event was the Freestyle Kayaking World Championships held in Wesser, North Carolina, adjacent to the iconic Nantahala Outdoor Center, leaders in whitewater and outdoor adventure and strong supporters of Olympic paddlesports with 22 Canoe/Kayak Olympians having worked for the company through its 41 year-old history.


Freestyle Worlds Nigh grandstand

Huge crowd under the lights at the Freestyle Worlds on the Nantahala River

The organizers of the World Championships on the Nantahala River produced an outstanding event that struck a powerful chord with the target audience. The "event experience" for spectators, sponsors, VIPs and media in attendance seamlessly wove together a platform of technology, hospitality, retail, entertainment and high performance that fully engaged all the senses of competitive paddlesports.

On the broadcast platform, the live-streaming event coverage, functioned beautifully and attracted over 70,000 unique views. And what is emerging as an excellent traditional television alternative for paddlesports here in the U.S., a post-produced broadcast of the Freestyle World Championships is being prepped for distribution to more than 80 million households via Fox Sports Network. Such post-produced shows allow the sport to develop the memorable storylines and target the broadcast times for more effective calls-to-action.

Teaser for the Freestyle Worlds broadcast production coming in Spring, 2014

Over the past several years, the ICF has significantly raised the standard of hosting events requiring a huge investment of people, time and resources. The desire to meet this standard here in the U.S. must be purposeful, professionally-driven and aligned with USA Canoe/Kayak's mission and strategic goals.

We thank our partners at the Nantahala River for hosting an exceptional World Championships that reinforced our passion and capabilities for welcoming international competitions to the U.S. And to the leadership of the Nantahala Outdoor Center, thank you for including USA Canoe/Kayak and ICF events in the vision for the future.

With gratitude,  

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Hello from your new Sprint High Performance Manager


Hello Everybody


My name is Michele Eray and I am USACK’s new Sprint High Performance Manager.

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I am really excited to be here in Oklahoma City, and pretty thrilled to be involved with such a great organization! I arrived just in time to witness the Sprint Nationals, and it was great to meet some of you, and I will hopefully meet the rest in the near future.

As I am pretty new, I will be spending some time familiarizing myself with the goings on here at HQ, as well as with all the athletes, coaches and other people involved. Please feel free to contact me to introduce yourself, my contact email is

Here is a brief background: I am from South Africa, and have an education in Biokinetics, which is final-phase rehabilitation (at home we work with physiotherapists getting injured people (from normal people to elite-level athletes) back on the winning path). I have also been involved in coaching across many of the paddling disciplines.

I am the 2013 Ocean Racing (SurfSki) Word Champion, and am an Olympic Finalist (Beijing 2008-WK4) as well as being a Marathon World Medalist.

I will be putting up regular posts with paddling related information, so please check the site, or if you would like to get the posts emailed to you, go here and fill in your details:

I will also have a regular Q&A, so if you have any questions, please ask, and I will post them on the website for all to learn from.

To our National Sprint Team jetting off to Europe to attend their final preparation camps & then compete at the World Canoe Sprint Championships in Duisburg, travel safe, stay healthy and race strong!

OK, that’s it for today.

Train hard, be positive and most importantly, have fun!


5 World Championships and a new World Champion


Late summer brings about a slew of ICF World Championships and USA Canoe/Kayak is set to step up with a more prominent role in 2013. From competing to hosting to building event management skills, five World Championships over the next few weeks represent a huge opportunity for our athletes and organization.

The march towards Paracanoe's inaugural appearance on the Paralympic program in Rio continues at the Paracanoe World Championships in late August in Duisburg, Germany. With increased investment in Paracanoe programs around the world, expect to see a big performance jump among this discipline at Worlds in 2013. Team USA sends 11 athletes to this event.

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The Paracanoe Worlds will be contested alongside the Sprint World Championships at the same venue. One particular Team USA story that stands out is that of Arezou Motamedi, who was born in Iran and is set to race her first World Championships representing USA Canoe/Kayak in Duisburg. As we measure our athletic progress, track results and pursue medals, it's amazing to imagine what it means for Arezou to don a USA jersey and compete for the United States at a World Championships. This has been a unique journey for Arezou - we are proud to have her competing for our team!

Arezou OKC

Arezou (left) with members of Riversport OKC Youth Kayak Team

One of these five World Championships comes to the United States this year - the Freestyle Kayaking Worlds will be staged on North Carolina's Nantahala River adjacent to the iconic Nantahala Outdoor Center. Our partners at the Nantahala have done incredible work in raising the profile of this sport. Here's a preview of what's coming:

The Slalom Worlds in Prague and Canoe Marathon Worlds in Copenhagen set up a hand off of next year's Worlds Championships to the United States. Our partners in Western Maryland and the Adventure Sports Center International will join us in Prague and leaders from the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation will be in Copenhagen working with the ICF to meet the increasing standards associated with hosting a World Championships and raising the profile of the sport.

casey devin asci

Putting our best foot forward in all elements of these World Championships helps to build our organization, develop our international partnerships, increase training and competitive opportuntiies for our athletes and attract top paddlers from around the world to the United States to train and compete with our Teams.

It's during this time we advance our 4th organizational goal (out of five) to expand our global influence. In addition to the service provided by loyal volunteers and officials, by the end of this run, 50% of our USA Canoe/Kayak Board of Directors will have attended at least one of these 2013 World Championships.

Over the next few weeks as we continue our progress both on and off the water, please support our efforts keep this momentum going.

Finally, the best part about a World Championships is crowning a new World Champion. And we have a reigning one working for USA Canoe/Kayak now. Michele Eray joins our team as the Sprint High Performance Manager and just a few weeks after claiming Gold at the Surf Ski Kayak Worlds in Portugal. Michele's experience as a 2008 Olympic Finalist in the K-4 event, a World Class endurance kayaker, an outstanding coach and successful entrepreneur brings a powerful element to our organization and headquarters in Oklahoma City. Welcome Michele! 

Stay tuned to the blog for more updates and thank you for your support of USA Canoe/Kayak.

With gratitude,

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Three Take-Aways from ICF Junior & U-23 Sprint World Championships


Twenty months ago, USA Canoe/Kayak embarked upon a professionally-led process that set five key strategic goals for the organizaiton. The goals we created were a balance of building a stronger enterprise and achieving better performances at the most important events. This past weekend, USA Canoe/Kayak Board Chairman, Bob Lally, and I had the privilege of attending the ICF Junior & U-23 Sprint World Championships in Welland, Canada where we witnessed progress in both of these areas.

A World Championships in any discipline represents a critcial performance benchmark - an opportunity to evaluate your work and results against the best in the world. Such events also bring together the key stakeholders in the sport - National Federations, Olympic Committees, event organizers and officials to name a few. With that here are three of my key take-aways from these World Championships and how they relate to our some of our specific goals:

1) Improving Performance

At first glance, you see a number a Team USA Athletes with B-Final performances. These results, which land between 10th and 18th place, are significant jump forward compared to past results. Add in a significant jump by the field around us - a point universally acknowledged by the top programs at these Worlds - and we see our program evolving in a very positive direction.

Here's what you don't see when you're scanning the results online - the response from our athletes to their B-Finals performances and the spirit they are carrying forward. A few short years ago, we had zero B-Finals performances at this level of competition. Today, the athletes who are moving closer to top performances are simply not satisified with narrowly missing out on the A-Finals. That moment when you see our athletes realize they can make this jump and re-commit themselves to the opportunity is simply awesome.

Welland Dylan Istvan k2

1A) Emergence of a Canoe Program

The work of our canoe athletes is inspiring. Our results in Men's and Women's Canoe categories reinforced terrific momentum in this previously underserved discipline. Claudiu Cuir has brought a wealth of high performance experience to canoe athletes based out of the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club. And our National Development Program now splits kayak and canoe training camps so canoe athletes (men's and women's) and canoe coaches are focusing on competitive and technical elements unique to this discipline.  

Moving towards USA Canoe/Kayak's 3rd goal - to achieve sustained international competitive success - not only doing these improving results reflect well on our athletes but also on our Clubs and Club Coaches.

Welland C1

2) Fostering International Relationships

The more I attend international events, the more I am reminded of the sport's home-base in Europe. While it's great to see a number of events moving around the globe over the next few years, critical movements in the sport are largely orginating thousands of miles from the United States over in Europe. 

Having said that, nothing can replace the person-to-person investment of time, energy and conversation exploring EVERYONE's top interest - the good of competitive paddlesports. There are millions of different ideas out there about how our sport should grow and progress. Regardless of which way is best, we won't advance any of our ideas without significant investment of person-to-person time with the ICF and our National Federation partners. 

Finally, in my many years around the sport, I can say that our relationships are absolutely trending upward with Bob Lally at the helm of USA Canoe/Kayak. His extensive experience living and working abroad in military leadership and his eager enthusiasm to learn and offer assistance to our partners is driving the success of USA Canoe/Kayak's 5th goal to Expand Global Influence.

Welland Istvan CAN Mac

3) Alignment of Energies

Much of USA Canoe/Kayak's progress - on and off the water - connect to an alignment of energies but two elements in particular stand out relative to my Welland take-aways. 

First, our partnership with the Canoe/Kayak Canada continues to be a fantastic growth initiative for competitive paddlesports in North America. From shared training camps to competitive opportunities to developing our strategic international initiatives, collaborative efforts at all levels are the sport are leveraging new opportunities and resources for more people. And we have room to extend this friendship even further in the near future.

Second, our partnership with Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation provided ourstanding coaching, equipment and logistical support that was critical to our performance in Welland and continues to build an operation capable of taking our elite programs to higher levels. Simply stated - our Oklahoma City partners are incredible partners.

Alignment of energies is at the heart of USA Canoe/Kayak's 4th goal - Empower Bold Leadership.

Welland K2

Sport teaches us well that our destination at USA Canoe/Kayk is one we never fully reach but moving our performances and organizational growth in the right direction is the true progress we are seeing today. We can't do it alone and we welcome your support.

With gratitude,

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Leadership at the River


The development of community waterways remains a huge opporutnity for Mayors around the United States. Few have embraced this on such a grand scale like that of Oklahoma City and its Mayor, Mick Cornett.

I had the the opportunity to sit down recently with Mayor Cornett on his television program, "Mayor's Monthly." We discuss investment and progress at the Oklahoma River and what it means to USA Canoe/Kayak:

The interview starts at Minute 7.

With gratitude,

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Stronger Clubs = Stronger USA Canoe/Kayak


Having spent considerable time over the past few weeks on USA Canoe/Kayak's 2014 High Perforance Plan, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the details of our National Programs. During this time, our coaches and staff engage in thoughtful and challenging discussions about the quality of and return-on-investment on all of our programs.

One program in which I'm proud of the progress we're making is our Sprint Club Recognition Program. Our National Sprint Development Director, Mac Hickox, developed this tiered system of benchmarks geared to BOTH high performance and Club sustainability.

Whether you're a forming a new Club from scratch, expanding an existing Club towards high level competition or moving an operational high performing Club towards greater financial independence, our Club Recognition Program maps out that progression in alignment with the USA Canoe/Kayak's mission and goals.

With that, we are pleased to announce our first Platinum Gold Level Sprint Clubs:

Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team

San Diego Canoe/Kayak Racing Team

Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club

These three Clubs met the highest standards in the areas of Club Management, Program Offerings, Community Outreach and SafeSport Practices.

Providing Clubs with more tools and resources to build stronger organizations to better support their athletes and coaches will ultimately raise stanadards across all the key touchpoints of the sport and move of us closer to our mission and goals.

Congratulations to all three of these Clubs.

With gratitude,

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