Sunday, 13 July 2014

My Flatwater Kayaking Story So Far....

Flatwater Kayaking has always been something in the background of my life. My dad started canoeing/kayaking a few years before I was born and he started up a canoe club at the college he worked and we lived at the year I was born. This involved him taking a group of students from the college to several races throughout the months of February, March and April. My mum constantly laughs about the fact that my dad went off to a canoe race only a couple of days after I was born.
As I reached the age of six, I started to regularly attend these races myself, supporting and cheering on the school crews that were taking part. My dad also took me out on little trips in a canoe during the summer. I remember one particular trip near Wales where we went down small weirs and rapids. At that age, I found it great fun. By the age of nine, I was confident in the small lightning boats used for under 12s in the Hasler racing series.
During my later years of Primary School, I went on a Girl Guiding Camp and took part in a raft building exercise in a pond on the camp site. Because of this experience, I became very anxious about water and falling in it. I spent years turning my mind to other sports and didn't attend any races for several years even though my dad continued to coach and support college crews.
One Saturday evening in 2012, I decided I would attend a race the following day to help my dad support the crews and film to create a video of the series that our crews were racing (Waterside Series). I witnessed a crew consisting of a young boy and dad complete the 23 mile race and for some reason, this gave me the urge to start Kayaking again. I was back in a boat on Thursday with only one capsize. Although the whole idea of water made me anxious, I had an aim to keep me going, to complete the 125 mile canoe race from Devizes, Wiltshire to Westminster, London.
The following week, I had roped in a partner, Nicola, a current school friend of mine. She was very sporty and was up for the challenge. We got in a K2 for the first time and didn't fall in! Stability was clearly not going to be a problem for us.

After the Easter Holidays, we got into the boat again and paddled our first three miles. The weather was cold and extremely rainy but even with several stops at bridges, we did it in roughly 45 minutes. Although decent we wanted to do better and took on the challenge of six miles only a couple of weeks later. Even with getting out and running between two bridges on the first three miles, we did it in 40 minutes. On the way back we improved to 38. Not bad going for the first six miles.
Then Nicola got injured and she spent over a month out of the boat but we still got back in and went racing. 4 miles. On the Thames. Circuiting. This wasn't the best idea considering and it showed. We were being over taken by boat after boat even though we were in the slowest main category. Then we capsized. Our first race over and it didn't go particularly well. Especially as my fear of water was still very much in the background. It took me a couple of days to realise that Kayaking was what I wanted to do.

I found a new partner, Helen, and got happier in a boat. By September 2012, I was training twice a week and getting better and better each time. We entered the Waterside Series 2013 (one of the coldest ever) and although our times weren't the quickest (13.5 miles-3:17, 17.5 miles-3:56, 23 miles- 5:55) we kept going with the aim to complete the tough 34 miler at the end. Then the snow set in and so did hyperthermia, we pulled out 16 miles through cold and trying to stay aware. Although this upset us, we knew it was stupid to carry on as cold as we were especially if we risked falling into freezing cold water in the middle of nowhere.

That Easter I supported yet another Devizes to Westminster crew to complete their goal for the second time. The conditions were even cold for the support crew but the boy made it to finish line.
The race inspired me even more and me and my partner started to train more seriously, trying out a quicker but more unstable boat and becoming even more determined to beat our times before. We worked hard and by September 2013, we were training two times a week on the water and once in the gym or running. We were so desperate to do well even though Helen had managed to harbor a shoulder injury over the summer. 

We took part in our first race together at the beginning of March and produced a time almost an hour quicker than the year before (13 miles- 2:34). However, it wasn't quick enough to beat some people in our Junior Ladies category. We felt gutted but it pushes us on to try harder. 

This was when disaster struck. I became ill, very ill. I spent three weeks in bed barely eating and just sleeping and one week in hospital on antibiotics and a drip. My partner continued to race with someone else who was training producing good times and even completing the 125 mile race in Easter, which I went out to support even though I was sat in a camping chair throughout. Eventually I became stronger and put on weight and at the end of June, I got back into a boat. My stamina is still not there but my technique is going strong and so is my speed. 
I will continue training next year with Helen and I'm more determined as ever. Hopefully 2015 will be my year.

Holly x

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