After so many days of highs for the Va’a Outrigger World Sprint Championships in Calgary, the final day of the event at the Glenmore Reservoir would serve as a reminder of how tight-knit the paddling community is.
The day dawned gray and cold, but gave way to blue skies and sunshine by noon. Half an hour later, time stopped. A member of one of Hawaii’s masters 70s men’s team collapsed in his boat during a race. Although his teammates quickly powered to the dock, and the man sitting in front of him gave the man immediate medical attention, he did not survive.
Hawaii’s team members sang a beautiful send-off song as they gathered around a tree close to the secure paddlers’ check-in, above the docks, where the emergency vehicles were parked. Then another member asked paddlers from other countries to line the access road leading up from the docks and hoist their paddles in the air when the vehicle carrying the man’s body went by. For more than an hour, nearly 1,300 paddlers lined the road waiting for the moment. And all that time, the site was silent.
A woman from Team Hawaii addressed the crowd, confirming that a teammate had died, and sharing some of his background with everyone. She said his family and teammates would want the event to continue, in the spirit of the sport that the man love.
Charles Villierme, president of the International Va’a Federation (IVF), make a tearful speech, expressing his condolences and assuring the masters-70 racers, or kupunas, that their new category would continue at future Va’a world championships.
Paddlers from Rapa Nui performed their own send-off for their fallen paddling comrade. The teams from Aotearoa in New Zealand performed a haka as their tribute.
When the van carrying the man’s body finally left the site, every paddler lined the access road and hoisted their paddles. First Nations drummers sang as Team Hawaii followed the van through Glenmore Reservoir’s park. A lone bagpiper played Amazing Grace, and tears flowed.
It was a most beautiful send-off for a man who died doing what he loved.
After a three-hour delay, the racing resumed at the wishes of the man’s family. The medal ceremony was carried out in the dark, and the va’a torch was passed to Brazil, who will host the world sprints in 2014.