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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
USA Canoe/Kayak's U-18 Sprint Canoe Athletes took to the water June 29-30 at the Canada Day Regatta in Ottawa. Our Sprint National Development Director Mac Hickox has done outstanding work moving this Canoe Program forward.
U18 Sprint Canoe athletes - beat a steady path to the podium in Ottawa. Twenty medals won by our Team of 15 athletes.
Andrew Field and Matthew Lam join Craig Spence of Canada following C2 200m event at Canada Day Regatta.
Proud of how these young men and women represent USA Canoe/Kayak both on and off the water.
You can learn more about how to support Mac's Sprint National Development Program right HERE - the information and resources in this area are fantastic.
The countdown to the Junior and U-23 World Championships in Welland, Canda continues. I'm looking forward to seeing many of these athletes compete next month.