"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.
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 enjoy seeing aspiring athletes taking advantage of the incredible opportunities that come with racing in Europe. So I was happy to receive an update this morning about one such experience.
Three athletes representing our National Slalom Program competed at the at the European Canoe Association Canoe Slalom Junior Cup on June 29-30 in Solkan, Slovenia. Great results for these athletes:
Evelyn Van Horn grabs third in the Women's U-16 Final
Tyler Smith takes second in the Men's U-14 C-1 Final.
Ethan Van Horn placed 5th in the U-23 Men's K-1 Final.
Thank you to the families who made this competition opportunity possible for these young athletes and many thanks to Evelyn, Tyler and Ethan for representing USA Canoe/Kayak abroad.