By Cameron Chaddad
With her multiple-medal performance, Ottawa’s Toshka Besharah played a crucial part in helping the Rideau Canoe Club win its second straight Championship Burgee at the 2019 Canoe Kayak Sprint National Championships.
The 16-year-old’s five gold medals were part of 32 that were won by the club’s athletes, who also picked up 21 silvers and 12 bronze medals at the event held in Wascana, Sask. from Aug. 27 to Sept. 1.
Besharah was born in Ottawa and has been a paddler with the club since she was six years old. Even prior to then, she said her life had always revolved around sports.
“Athletics is my passion,” Besharah told the Sportspage. “I’ve been in sports before I could walk. I grew up in a very active household.”
Besharah’s first experience with organized sports came when she was enrolled in gymnastics at the age of three. In addition to gymnastics she played soccer, hockey, swam and skied competitively while growing up.
It wasn’t long before she realized her true calling came in a boat. At eight years old she joined the full summer program at Rideau, which contributed to what she described as her falling in love with the sport. A few years later she decided paddling was something she wanted to take seriously and decided to drop her other sports for a year-round schedule dedicated to kayaking.
It was at 13 years old that Besharah says she knew she had made the right choice after winning her first individual K-1 (individual) provincial gold medal. She traces a lot of her internal drive – including her ambition to one day paddle for Canada’s senior national team – to her first provincial medal.
“It was a huge deal for me at the time. From then on, I began to focus and take paddling more seriously,” Besharah says.
Last year presented Besharah’s first opportunity to compete at the national championships. Despite being just 15 years old, she would go on to win the Under-16 K-1 200m championship (a title she defended this year, setting a new national record of 43.35 second).
As well as her various achievements in kayaking, Besharah says participating in the sport has also taught her important life lessons, like discipline and respect. It’s also taught her that nothing in life comes easy and that she has to work hard to achieve her goals as well as teaching her lessons about teamwork.
“It has taught me team skills (like) how to work together, when things may not go your way working as a team (that) to find the best answer that includes everyone’s ideas,” Besharah said.
Earlier this past summer, Besharah won a bronze medal at the ICF Junior & U23 Canoe Sprint World Championships, which were held in Romania. Nepean High School grade Maren Bradley was also a member of the team that placed 3rd in the K-4 junior women’s 400 m event. Fellow Rideau paddler Ella Hodgson-Pageau won a silver medal at that event as well, placing 2nd in the C-2 junior women’s 200 m race.
Hodgson-Pageau won 7 gold medals for Rideau at this year’s national championships, while Bradley took home 6 golds of her own.
Rideau’s Besharah, Hodgson-Pageau, Matthew O’Neill (who won 5 gold medals at nationals), Kieran Graham (who won 4 gold medals at nationals) and Jacob Price (who won 3 gold medals at nationals) each also competed at the Olympic Hopes International Regatta in Bratislava, Slovakia in September. Hodgson-Pageau won 2 gold medals and 1 silver medal at the regatta, while Besharah returned to Ottawa with a bronze medal. O’Neill won a bronze medal and a silver medal, while Graham won a bronze medal of his own as well.
Besharah says her intention is to continue competing internationally in the sport that she describes as her passion in life.
Rideau likely couldn’t have imagined a better segue into the year that they’ll host the national championships than by winning their 3rd national title since 2015. Rideau’s site in Mooney’s Bay will be home to the 2020 Canoe Kayak Sprint National Championship from Aug. 25-30 next summer.