Canoe Sport: A Lifelong Passion

My name is Peter Courtney. I am a 52 year-old husband, father and grandfather, a former competitive paddler, a life-long fan of the sport of Canoe-Kayak and I’m currently training to compete at the master’s level.

I began paddling at the age of 13 when Sack-a-wa Canoe club opened its doors in 1979. Sackville Nova Scotia is a bedroom community just outside of Halifax with a population of approximately 30,000. Both of my parents grew up in Dartmouth and both paddled when they were young. Knowing the many benefits the sport offered, both physically and mentally, they encouraged us to give it a try and my brother and sister and I were all registered for the club’s inaugural season. It became apparent to me immediately that this sport offered so many things that other traditionally popular sports did not. Since most of our summer days were spent hanging around the club in between on-water activities; so there was a strong sense of community, friendship, bonding and inclusion. Close friendships were formed that remain to this day.

Like many other Canadian Kids, I also played ice hockey and I played at a very high level. However, back in the 80’s hockey was not yet an all year round sport so most hockey players also had a summer sport. Paddling was mine. My first Nationals were in Montreal in 1982 and I won a Bronze in Midget Men’s C4. That fall I switched to kayak and really found my rhythm. The following year in Calgary I won a Silver in Midget Men’s K2, Gold in Midget Men’s K4 and double Gold In Midget and Juvenile Men’s WC. IN 1984 I quit playing hockey and focused my efforts on trying the make the 1985 Junior World Team. Although not successful, I did compete at Canada Games for Nova Scotia in Saint John, New Brunswick bringing home 3 medals in 3 races. In 1987 I placed 5th in Junior Men’s K1 at Nationals in Calgary and was named to the National team as a developmental athlete (D card). At this point my focus turned towards University and coaching and my competitive career essentially ended.

Paddles Up! Magazine was a mainstay in my household and I eagerly awaited each new publication, as it was the only connection I had to results from the sport I came to love. My bedroom was adorned with covers of the magazine taped to the wall to help keep me motivated. I religiously read the athlete profiles of the National Team members and when I saw them in person at CCA I looked at them with the same reverence an NHL fan would have in seeing Sidney Crosby. I had become a true fan!

Canoe Sport runs deep in my family. My mom paddled at Banook Canoe Club having a successful racing career at the Provincial and National level in crew boats. My aunt, Trudy Burley, was a North American Champion in Ladies K2 (with Karen Lynch) in the 60’s. My uncle and coach, Lloyd Burley, was Manager of the National Team and Head Coach of Cheema Canoe Club in the early 80’s and my 2nd Cousin, Grace Whebby, is currently a top rated Canadian sprinter and Women’s National Team member.

And as I mentioned earlier I have remained a huge fan of the sport following the progress of athletes competing in Provincial, National, International and Olympic events every year since I retired. This past year I began reflecting more and more about the sport and where it all started for me. So I reached out to my friend Chris MacPherson who is the Head Coach at Sack-a-wa and expressed an interest in somehow getting involved. He suggested coming to Florida in March of 2019 and doing some paddling with his athletes at their spring training camp. My wife and I booked some vacation time and we had an amazing time! That 10 days being immersed once again reignited that fire. So upon my return I volunteered to become a member of the Board of Directors and I now sit as Vice Commodore of Sack-a-wa Canoe Club. I consider myself extremely fortunate to sit with a group of individuals who are selfless and tireless when it comes to supporting this club and it’s growth and look forward to learning from them.

So, what’s next? I’m excited that our club has been approved to (finally) construct a new facility with funding at the Provincial and Federal level; I’m enthusiastic to watch our community club grow again; I continue to keep myself healthy and participate in various activities; I look forward to being on the water and once again doing what I have loved for 39 years.

Paddles Up!!