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.
Many 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
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.
The 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.
While 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.
Now, 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
While 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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
I spend a lot of time thinking about one's journey to begin canoeing or kayaking.
On this particular Friday evening, a plastic kayak is resting on the dock about six inches above the waters of the Oklahoma River. Sitting in the boat on the dock is Ezra, an 8 year-old who traveled to Oklahoma City from southern California to participate in the Endeavor Games, a multi-sport event geared towards adaptive and Paralympic sports hosted by our friends at University of Central Oklahoma. Reverting to my default setting as a paddling coach leading a first-timer through a short orientation, I ask Ezra to tell me his plan for propelling his boat through the water.
"No problem," Ezra says, "I'm going to put this hand on the paddle like this [placing his right hand on the paddle shaft] and put the other side of the paddle here [tucks the paddle shaft underneath his left armpit where most of us would have a left arm attached] and then go like this [he synchs his right arm paddling motion with a full body contortion on the left side to move the paddle through the water]."
"Awesome," I say, "Off you go."
I push Ezra's boat into the water and just stand in there in amazement as he picks up speed and confidence moving towards the far river bank.
New challenge conquered.
For Ezra, the incredible momentum of acquiring unlikely life experience and skill acquisition spanning eight years strikes again.
For me, ideas about why and how we paddle on the water expand and progress. It's precisely this moment that I am reminded of why I signed up for this job and how fortunate I am to be here during this time. I told the leadership at the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation this was my single favorite day in Oklahoma City to date.
When our Board Chair, Bob Lally, and I lobbied for USA Canoe/Kayak to serve as the U.S. National Governing Body for the new Paralympic sport of ParaCanoe, neither of us were sure where this journey would lead us. But, it felt like something we needed to do. And so far, we've launched a program that is gaining new awareness, attracting new leadership, generating new resources and ultimately driving better performance from our athletes.
ParaCanoe will make it's debut on the Paralympic program at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In addition to moments like the one we shared with Ezra a few weeks ago, the last six months have produced some outstanding results for USA Canoe/Kayak. We've increased organizational stability, financial position and diversity in leadership while aligning more resources with targeted High Performance support, new competitive opportunities for our programs and partnerships that will grow the base, impact and sustainability. We are doing really good things for the sport today and yet, we haven't shared this progress with you.
So over the next few weeks, we will make a better efforts to share these steps forward and what they mean to our program.
Thank you for your support.