"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.
Bringing change to an enterprise does not come easy but over the past few months, we've realized critical organizational growth and sustainability at USA Canoe/Kayak. Our relocation to Oklahoma City about a year and half ago was a major turning point for us and our partnership with the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation brought shared services in key areas, access to new resources and a venue that represents a bold vision for the sport.
The Oklahoman recently featured a column and video that reports on the latest developments at the Oklahoma River. Just click here --> Impact of the Oklahoma River on USA Canoe/Kayak
As a bonus video, check out Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett's TEDMED speech in Washington, DC this past spring. It captures the spirit and values that have transformed Oklahoma City and invited a culture innovation into our community. (Grateful for the Canoe/Kayak mention, Mr. Mayor - thank you!)