By Martin Boyce
After a summer wearing the maple leaf on whitewater overseas, local Team Canada members were back on home water in early August as their Ottawa River Runners club hosted the Whitewater National Championships steps from Parliament Hill at the Pumphouse.
Keenan Simpson’s path back home has been about as bouncy as the waves he navigates through. The Ottawa native moved to Seattle for his dad’s job 3 years ago, which has meant a lot of time training solo.
“It was really challenging,” recounts the 18-year-old. “I didn’t have a coach, I didn’t have a course and I didn’t even have flatwater gates, so I was just going out everyday either to the gym or out on my boat, just by myself.”
Now off to university in Montreal, Simpson says he’s looking forward to having a course nearby to help improve his technique on the water ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
The national champ in the junior and under-23 K-1 events, Simpson has emerged a one of Canada’s top whitewater prospects. He made both the senior and junior national teams, which allowed him to take part in the July 18-23 Junior/Under-23 World Championships in Slovakia as well as World Cups.
The circuitous journey and challenging setup also hasn’t stopped Simpson from competing in one of the wilder whitewater pursuits, appropriately dubbed extreme slalom cross – a head-to-head race where 4 athletes launch into the river from a platform and race down the course while negotiating a series of obstacles and also performing a roll in a designated zone.
“It’s a totally different animal racing in Europe,” indicates the 14th-place finisher in the K-1 men’s extreme race at the season’s first World Cup in Czech Republic. “Here it’s good, but it’s just not the same. It was really good for me this year to see where I stood up against the senior athletes.”
Betteridge building up
Joining Simpson as a first-timer on the senior national team was Lois Betteridge, who competes in both women’s canoe and kayak.
The 19-year-old was the lone Canadian to make it through heats at the junior/U23 worlds, finishing 29th overall.
“The level of women’s canoe is getting higher and higher,” Betteridge signals, underlining the increasing challenge it is to stay near the top. “It’s something that’s actually really inspiring to see, a lot more girls doing really, really well.”
The Glebe Collegiate Institute grad won both the national C-1 and K-1 U23 races on her home course, an experience she won’t soon forget.
“It’s super exciting,” smiles Betteridge, set to soon begin her studies in architecture at Algonquin College. “It’s always fun to race on your home course. The Pumphouse is a pretty cool location we have here in downtown Ottawa. We train here every day, so we know the moves and it’s definitely fun with all your friends here.”
Olympians on course
Rio 2016 Olympian Cam Smedley, whose top World Cup result this season was 24th, added another national crown to his collection, besting fellow Ottawa native and World Cup competitor Spencer Pomeroy in the men’s C-1 competition.
The final local Team Canada international competitor is another past Olympian, Michael Tayler, who’s already attended 2 Games at age 25.
In between his own races, Tayler handed out medals to younger athletes at nationals.
“That’s really what it’s all about,” explains the Nepean High School grad. “If we want to grow the sport, as an athlete – an Olympic athlete – you have to be an ambassador and I think it’s important to give back.”
Tayler’s international schedule has been lighter than usual in this post-Olympic season, instead focusing on his business studies at Carleton University.
Tayler was bested by fellow Ottawa resident John Hastings – who is now retired from international competition – in the men’s C-1 event, but was glad to get his season going at home as he gears up for the Sept. 27-Oct. 1 senior worlds in France.
“I started paddling here 17 years ago as an 8-year-old kid and now to see this – it’s amazing,” says Tayler.
Aside from the racing, the particularly eye-catching aspect of the event was the brand new wooden clubhouse on the banks of the Pumphouse just east of Lebreton Flats.
River Runners’ Pumphouse clubhouse project comes to fruition
The project years in the making to replace the three overstocked metal shipping containers that had been used to store boats there for more than 20 years.
The clubhouse could not have been built without club-member donations and funds raised through events that neared $200,000, notes River Runners club president Doug Corkery.
“It wouldn’t have happened without that, but it wasn’t enough,” he signals, noting an additional $150,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation was the final piece to the puzzle.
The extra capacity and eye-appealing structure will hopefully draw more interest to the sport and the club, Corkery adds.
“This sort of brings us into the same realm as other sports that are quite successful,” he explains. “We’ve been kind of the poor cousin for a long time. But now, this should really take off.”
Rideau Canoe Club wins 60 medals at sprint nationals
On flatwater at the Aug. 22-26 Canadian Sprint Canoe-Kayak Championships in Welland, the Rideau Canoe Club finished 2nd overall in the national club burgee standings, earning a total of 22 gold, 20 silver and 18 bronze medals.
Maddy Schmidt led the way with 5 gold medals in the senior women’s K-1 200, 500 & 1,000 metres, and the K-2 500 & 1,000 m. With junior women’s victories in the K-1 1,000 m and K-2 500 & 1,000 m, Lexy Vincent was a triple-gold medallist at nationals. So too was Rowan Hardy-Kavanagh, who followed up her U23 World Championships C-2 200 m bronze medal with Canadian crowns in junior women’s C-1 200 & 500 m, and C-2 500 m.
Rideau won team titles in both the junior and senior women’s categories, as well as the under-17 men’s division.
Natalie Davison was 2nd in the ‘B’ final for 11th overall with the Canadian women’s K-4 500 m team, while Rideau clubmate Drew Hodges made it through heats to advance to the semi-finals of the C-2 men’s 500 m en route to a 13th-place finish overall at the Aug. 23-27 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Czech Republic.
Rideau also won the Ontario grand champions burgee on home water at Mooney’s Bay on Aug. 12-13, earning the highest point total from the combined scores of all divisions at the provincial championships regatta.
The purple paddlers earned category crowns in the U15 girls’, U17 boys’, open men’s, para & paddle all divisions at the event, claiming the overall men’s and women’s titles in the process.
Amongst the top performers were the half-dozen Rideau athletes named to the Canoe-Kayak Canada-selected team for the Sept. 15-17 Olympic Hopes regatta in Czech Republic: Alex Hoferek, Maren Bradley, Olivia Pucci, Michaela Ermanovics, Adam Richard and Matthew O’Neill. Nikole Gorelova from the Ottawa Canoe Club was also selected to the Olympic Hopes team.