I cried; I admit it.
I spent years covering sporting events both minor and major, so the journalist in me wants to cover the 2012 Va’a Outrigger World Sprint championships like I would any other event. FInd the awesome stories, like the volunteers who have busted their butts to put this event on, or the young Aussie gold medallist who only started paddling 18 months ago because he was in a bullying situation, the Italians and their adopted New Zealand coach, or the adaptive paddlers who hoist themselves out of their boats and into their wheelchairs when they’re finished their competition.
But my mom is one of the 1,288 paddlers—one of 250 Canadians, one of 12 kapunas (over 70s women) or one of 24 if you count the Hawaiian teams that came to Calgary for this event.
So when mom’s team raced in the V6 Masters 70s final today, I cried. And I screamed. And I hugged her hard and told her how proud I am of her, and how much I loved her.
And I won’t apologize for the favouritism.
Mom and her Canada 1 boat won a second gold medal at this world event today. Eight years ago, she didn’t even paddle, and now she’s a world champion twice over.
The women raced at 12:30 p.m., four boats in all: two from Canada and two from Hawaii. Since this was again a new age category for the world sprint championships, their medal race—they didn’t have enough teams to run heats—was a history maker the minute the paddlers loaded into their boats at the dock and backed their way into Glenmore Reservoir to go to the starting line.
I was cooking on the pavement lining the top of the rocky shoreline, feeling guilty because I had left my lucky Canada hat back at the tent. I got both cameras ready to go, and videotaped the race (I’ll load it another time—it’s late and takes too long).
The announcer, from New Zealand, referred to the race as the “clash of the titans”.
Canada 2 started the race strong, and was actually ahead of Canada 1 at one point. At the halfway point, Canada 1 started pulling hard, and overtook Canada 2 and one of the Hawaiian boats to take the lead. Incredibly, they kept opening the gap.
By this time several Canadian paddlers on the sidelines were screaming. Me too. One hundred metres later, when it was evident Canada 1 was going to win the gold medal, the tears began to flow. Canada 1 looked so strong, they were giving their all. Once they crossed the finish line, the paddlers all collapsed forward in unison, exhausted; lungs burning, hearts pounding, spit long dried on their tongues, and faces grinning.
I could see mom raise her paddle in victory. Canada 1 finished the race in a time of 2:52.04. Keauhou 2 from Kona, Hawaii, finished second in the 500-metre (1,640 feet) course with a time of 2:58.07. Only six seconds’ difference, but a lifetime if you’re the boat that is behind.
Keauhou finished third in a time of 3:07.08 and Canada 2 finished fourth with a time of 3:15.69.
When they came up the ramp, and out of the secure paddlers’ area, teammates and competitors alike formed another paddle arch to congratulate them.
There is another special person with a vital role in this story, Canada’s kapunas’ coach, Pat. Mom met Pat through dragon boating at False Creek in Vancouver, BC, and Pat enticed her to try outrigger canoeing. They discovered they were born two days apart—mom is older by two days—in the same hospital in Ottawa, Ont.
I learned that Pat was also instrumental in persuading Va’a organizers that they needed an over-70s category at the world sprints. She’s waited eight years for this to happen, and so far it’s been a golden performance.
The medal ceremony takes place on Tuesday.
The kapunas race one final time, Tuesday afternoon in the 1,000-metre (3,280 feet or 0.62 miles) race. The course will be shorter, only 250 metres (820 feet), but the teams must make three sharp turns and do four lengths of the course. The same four teams are competing against each other, so it should be a barnburner. I can hardly wait.