Paddling Goes Full Circle

By: Andrea Waters (Corbin)

Orenda Canoe Club was founded in 1977. I began paddling in 1980 at the age of eight at this small grass-roots club in Lake Echo, Nova Scotia. Who knew that 4 years later I would be winning my first medal at Nationals and Orenda would be making their mark on the national stage? Orenda Canoe Club would finish in the top five at Nationals only a few years later (1985/86), and won the Nationals Championship Burgee in 1987, 1988, and 1989. These years marked my memories of childhood and forever ensured paddling would be a part of my identity. I was very fortunate to have had the coaching and mentoring of a fabulous group of coaches; Tony Hall, Mary Hall, Peter Fardy, Wade Farquharson, and Rob Stott all played a role in my development.

The first time I earned a spot at Nationals in K1, I was still wearing a life-belt (Bantam age) and was often training in the club’s heaviest boat and augmenting a footboard with duct tape and foam to support my short stature. I remember this moment as at Qualifying we drew for the “wooden lancer” and I won! My luck and hard work continued as despite being an underdog I earned my spot in the Midget Ladies K1 race in Toronto. This would be the first year I filled my race card at Nationals. I thrived on being the underdog and loved racing. In Calgary, I would place top five in Midget Women’s K1 1000m in a race filled with future Olympians. Orenda had three of the top finishers and we would go on to win K4 that year.  I was part of many winning teams between 1984-1989, and my favourite memories are always K-4 and war canoe. We had a special group of girls at Orenda who defined “coming together for a common goal”. We also had coaches who invested in a group of girls who had never paddled before and helped them become Champions. I learned how to work as a team, how to persevere and come from behind, the value of sport and physical activity in overall health and wellness, and the importance of comradery from a very young age. They remain ingrained today.

Many of these formative years were spent on the NS Provincial training team as we worked toward Canada Games. I would stroke the NS K4 to a silver medal in 1989. After Canada Games I began coaching at Senobe Aquatic Club, where I would eventually take on the role of Head Coach. I also completed my NCCP Level III which earned me a coaching position with the 1993 NS Canada Games Team.

In 1995, I graduated from Dalhousie University and began a career as a Recreation Therapist working in rehabilitation. I currently work at the IWK Health Centre in Kids’ Rehabilitation and started my journey at Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia. I have spent almost 25 years working with adult and paediatric populations. I use sport and recreation as a modality for treatment. In 2008, I was approached to lend support to a new Canadian initiative, “Paddle All”. My experiences with canoe/kayak and rehabilitation have now merged. I have gone full circle, and it has been an amazing experience to be back in a sport community I love. I have facilitated seminars for coaches and officials sponsored by CKC and co-wrote the NCCP module “Coaching Persons with a Disability”. I also sit on the CKC Paracanoe/Paddle All Committee.

In 2009, I helped classify athletes with an impairment who were participating in Paracanoe races at Worlds in Dartmouth (the first international Paracanoe event). I have been volunteering with the International Canoe Federation for the past 10 years and each year classify at international events. I have had the opportunity to apply my skills as a rehab practitioner and my knowledge of canoe/kayak. I have also built many fantastic relationships with athletes, classifiers, and sport leaders around the world. I have facilitated classifier training in Poland, Australia, Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico. I have also been filling the role of Chair of the COPAC Paracanoe Committee since 2015. Part of this role is to help develop Paracanoe in the Americas with the end goal resulting in one day Paracanoe racing at the ParaPan Games.

I have invested a lifetime of work into improving sport and recreation access and opportunities for persons with a disability. Being able to bring my love for canoe/kayak into this work by volunteering with Paracanoe sport development has been very rewarding. I hope to see Canada continue to advance Paracanoe as a priority initiative. Paddles Up!

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