By Bret Himmelman
My name is Bret Himmelman, I am a member of the 2018 Canadian World Cup Team, a member of Maskwa Aquatic Club and I have a story to tell about my experience in the sport of canoeing and how it changed my life.
I was a 15 year old skinny 135lb kid who played hockey and lacrosse when I first was dropped off at Maskwa Aquatic Club. I wasn’t actually registered or paid for any programs and they only realized a few days before the first regatta I wasn’t actually a club member but they let me stay since I was already there for a couple weeks. My Grampy was the person who dropped me off to the club and said go paddle get in shape and have fun. He only knew about paddling from one of his tavern buddies who had a son and daughter who paddled who used to paddle and raced for Canada and said it was a perfect way to get strong and to build my endurance. Neither of us thought at the time that canoeing would be the sport I would fall in love let alone that I would be racing for Team Canada in countries like Germany, Hungary and Mexico.
I don’t come from a family with any paddling background, I didn’t even know the sport existed until I joined Maskwa but holy am I ever lucky I am in it now. Starting off wasn’t easy as most people my age have been paddling for a few years and knew the basics such as how to steer and balance while I spent more of my first fall paddling in the water than I did in the boat but being able to see myself improve everyday was a motivating factor for me that kept pushing me to want to be better. I went to Florida in my first year of paddling despite only being in a canoe for a few months and completing Florida with only tipping a few times felt like an accomplishment to me at the time.
My first Nationals was 2014 in Regina and my goal was to qualify for a C1 race which I accomplished after only being in a canoe for less than a year. The following year I was able to get a C1 medal in the 6000m in Ottawa and that’s when I knew that paddling was my sport and this was the sport I wanted to do for the long haul after being a hockey player since I was 4.
I continued to play hockey because I grew up in a hockey family and there was always excitement in my house for hockey, but the excitement on my Grampys face after watching Maskwa win Nationals in Dartmouth in 2016 for the first time in club history and being able to watch me race in person at a large regatta for the first time made him want to do anything to be able to go to Welland in 2017 to watch me race and that level of excitement was second to none. He was at every single race and regatta at Lake Banook and any completion I was at when I was away he was following along the result boards or waiting for me to call to tell him how I did and I loved having him there at every single race.
That same year I raced for Team Canada for the first time in Veracruz, Mexico that brought a whole different perspective on the sport for him and my family about the opportunities for me in canoeing for me and that I’m no longer a kid who is paddling just to gain some muscle. I finally started to feel like a paddler and I loved the feeling of it.
That winter was the hardest winter of my life as a cancerous brain tumor took my Grampys memory and life where he didn’t remember in the end that I was a paddler. The following season was difficult without him and the first time I raced at Lake Banook that year I had to hide back tears for the weekend because it was so drastically different that he wasn’t around the lake physically anymore as he was there every time I was racing at home.
As painful as not having him there was, he did give me the sport of paddling which is now a major part of my life and one of the infinite things he did for me. With the exception of all the love and care he gave to me, paddling was the greatest gifts he has given me. Since then I have raced at the 2017 Canada Games for Team Nova Scotia and for Team Canada at the 2018 World Cups and I know he didn’t miss a single one of those races just like how he didn’t miss a single race of mine when he was alive. If it wasn’t for my Grampy my life would be a lot different, I wouldn’t have been to Europe yet, I wouldn’t have met a lot of my lifetime friends and I wouldn’t be a paddler which seems unimaginable now.
This article is a bit about telling my story but it is more of a thank you to the person who has given me the world, so I shall it end by saying Thank you Grampy, I love you. This is my story and it is certainly not the end of it, just the start.
Maskwa 2017 REPEAT National Champions. This has been my best Nationals yet coming home with 8 medals. Proud to be a part of the best club in Canada for a second year in a row🇨🇦 A big thank you to all the parents, coaches @jonpike76 and @jakejeannot and to all my teammates who helped us repeat as National Champions.