There is nothing cooler than the national team

By Katie Vincent

 

For as long as I can remember my dream has been to compete for Canada at the Olympics. Something about wearing a maple leaf on the biggest sporting stage in the world fuels me every day.

 

 

I played a lot of different sports growing up, my mom can tell you many stories of picking me up from the ski hill after Sunday morning training in Collingwood so I could make it back to Mississauga for my Sunday afternoon hockey game (I was a very lucky kid). I was high-level alpine skiing around the same time I started to pick-up canoeing.

I wanted to be like Clara Hughes, I was going to do both. For a while it was working, canoeing in the summer, skiing in the winter; but I did have to choose eventually. My parents asked me to decide in the fall of 2011, it was one of the hardest decisions of my life. Deep down I knew I would keep canoeing, it’s where my heart was… nevertheless it still took some time and some tears, but I came to the hard decision and I let go of skiing, and since that moment – canoeing has been my muse.

 

 

In the spring of 2012, I attended my first training camp in Florida. As I paddled up and down the canal for the first time (I have 1000s of kilometers on this canal now) I would wait for the moments when the national team athletes would wash out my 16-year-old self; then for 30 seconds I would stop and watch them make it look so easy and graceful. I wanted to be them.

Something I never fully considered at the beginning of my journey as a sprint canoe athlete was that my event was not in the Olympics. Doesn’t make much sense right? My dream is to compete for Canada at the Olympics and I just chose a sport that isn’t part of an Olympic Programme (yet), but if I weren’t canoeing nothing would feel right.

It has taken a long time for women’s canoe to be added to the Olympic Programme and that’s what makes this journey more special.

 

Great capture by Ronald Poisson from our MCC Home Regatta. World Champion athlete @k.vincent_ finished a paddle on home turf with 2 of our youth racing program athletes looking on. 💥

Posted by Mississauga Canoe Club on Sunday, June 24, 2018

 

I came into this sport at an interesting time. The women’s canoe movement had already started but was still pretty far from inclusion in the Olympics. There was lacking support from federations all over the world and a lot of “it’s not ready yet” and not a lot of “we will be the change”. Thankfully, Canada took the lead and we still have it. We are lucky, in our country, as women have been canoeing long before I was born. My aunt recently just told my family that she was a member of Mississauga Canoe Club growing up and raced a few war canoes. 13 years as members and my aunt just decides to tell us when we are this far into it? Lol. Other countries are not this lucky, I can’t imagine what my competitors have gone through knowing what I have struggled with as an athlete not being fully supported by my own country.

 

 

My story is not one of great resistance, there are many women before me that deserve the most respect for their pioneering in women’s canoe.  I did face some struggle and disrespect. I was a woman doing something that usually only men do and I was doing it better than some of them. I was lucky for the most part, I had a great support system with the right coaches and family but not everyone was so supportive. I will share some of my favourite sayings people have said to me over the years:

“Women’s canoe will never be in the Olympics” – Well… You were very wrong.

“If Canada is winning, it is because the rest of the world isn’t very good at it” – I would give this person $5 to say that to one of the MANY world champions and Olympic medalists from our country.

“Is it weird that you have to go through a semi-final now that there are too many people to go directly from your heat?” – No actually, the more the merrier. That way we can keep showing the world how well Canada canoes. We aren’t scared of a little competition.

 

There was recently a petition made to not exclude the C1 200m from the Olympic Games. You could understand my…

Posted by Katie Vincent on Monday, December 14, 2015

 

I could keep going and I’m sure any women’s canoe athlete before I can tell you much worse. What makes this movement so special is that none of us loved the sport because we had good results; we loved it because we loved canoeing. None of us are naïve, we are aware when we might not have as much depth as other events but we are also not complaining about it. I recently had a teammate complain about having 4 races in a day, all I could think is “would you rather have no races in a day?” My gratitude for this sport has grown a lot in the last few years, it is probably a maturity thing but it is a lot about being grateful for opportunities.

As I said earlier, all I wanted to do was be part of the national team. There were a few years where this was really tough. I had the best results on the junior and U23 team and was supported less for winning a world title than others were for not making the team.  There was nothing I could do about this and it is not anyone’s fault (politics, right?) but it did make me appreciate everything I have now so much more.

Right now, I get to wake up every day and train with my teammates as part of the Canadian national team. This is about as close as it gets for me to be living the dream; I currently have no interest in life beyond sport. This is what I have dreamed of since I was a little girl. I have no idea how successful I will be, I have no idea how long I will compete, I will just keep setting goal after goal until maybe I don’t want to anymore.  Being a member of Team Canada is the most rewarding for me because there was a time when there was no Women’s Canoe National Team and I remember those days. Now we are fully supported by our federation and Canada still leads the world on the international racing stage.

 

 

Recently, we have started doing a team dinner or social event once a week. We gather all the disciplines together and do something not so physically taxing. For me, it’s not about going out of my comfort zone to try and convince 40 people to get ice cream with me, it’s about being a team. I love doing it, I love the idea that once a week even just for an hour we are a team walking down the street together because I know 16-year-old Katie would just stop, stare, and think, “I want to be a part of that”. When I look back on my time as an athlete I want to know that I made the most of this experience, feeling part of the team is part of that experience.

 

🍔&🍦 #BurgerTuesday #GirlsTrip #TrainingCamp

A post shared by Katie Vincent (@k.vincent_) on

 

I am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for my teammates, the generations of sprint canoe athletes after me, and myself. My main goal is to compete in Tokyo at the Olympics wearing a maple leaf. A goal that not very many years ago was still just a dream.  Our team is centralized on Lake Banook in Dartmouth, we work with a sports science team and our coach Jan Kruk to keep pushing the limits of women’s canoe, we don’t know where the limit is but there is only one way to find out: keep going faster.

Thank-you to everyone who has ever supported me, one of my teammates, one of the many pioneers of women’s canoe, any women’s canoe athlete around the world, the women’s canoe movement, any national team member past or present, and anyone who has had the opportunity to enjoy this great sport.

 

We Paddle.

 

Woman's Canoe Legacy Lives On

As our top female sprint canoeists anticipate the 2020 Olympic Games, they are reflective upon the leaders in the paddling community that enabled equality and growth within the sport. We are proud to have the national woman's canoe team based out of Lake Banook, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. In partnership with Made with Local, Canoe Kayak Canada #wepaddle #adckc #lakebanook #discoverhalifax #womenscanoe

Posted by The ADCKC on Monday, July 16, 2018

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Thank you to The Atlantic Division CanoeKayak Canada for the great photos and videos. Watch more the The ADCKC Facebook page and Instagram