I was surrounded by the beautifully clear water of the Arkansas River, with the stunning walls of the Rocky mountainsides towering above me on all sides and proceeding far into the distance. The water and the view were incredible, but I couldn't even see them. My full attention was focused on the kayak 20 yards ahead of me.
Go Katie go. You know you can do this, I whispered to myself.
Each stroke brought me closer and closer. I put every ounce of my strength into my paddle, into the water. All I could see was the person ahead of me, trying desperately not to let me catch up. All I could hear was the sound of my own breathing and heartbeat. I reached the point of not feeling, of knowing that I could not possibly be paddling any harder. And yet I did.
The Whitewater National Regatta began with a training camp for the junior athletes led by Alessia Faverio and Cameron Thacker, two seasoned athletes on the U.S. Senior Team who have traveled around Europe training and racing. The camp lasted five days and consisted of runs of the Classic course at varying speeds, runs of the Sprint course, and flatwater training sessions. We had morning and afternoon sessions each day.
The Classic runs were to familiarize ourselves with the rapids on the river and to figure out the best way to pace ourselves throughout the course so that we have the fastest races possible. We were able to watch Cameron and Alessia for good lines through the rapids, but also allowed a lot of freedom to choose our own lines and to get experience with different courses of action through each run of the racecourse. We were further taught how to pace ourselves throughout the race by breaking the course into thirds and racing each third a different way.
In addition to preparing us on the water for competition, the camp was also very helpful in that it allowed us to bond with and get to know our competitors before racing. We were able to work off one another and use each other to make us all the best racers and competitors we could be.
The training camp prepared us well so that once competition rolled around we were ready to race our hearts out, and that’s what we all did. There were some friendly but seriously competitive rivalries throughout the regatta including one between Amanda Creek of Colorado and me, and another between Kell Fremouw of Maine and Gus Madore of Massachusetts. All of us were incredibly determined to outpaddle our opponents and, as a result, - I believe I can speak for the others as well - may have paddled harder than we ever had in our lives.
The incredible competition and wonderful friendships that came as a result of the regatta made for a week of some of the best races any of the U.S. Junior Team hopefuls had ever seen. Winning a race against phenomenal competition made a world of difference and was much more satisfying. Losing a race knowing that our competitors had risen above and beyond and achieved their goals made it much easier to simply be happy for them.
It is the people that are found at the Whitewater Nationals that make all the preparing and training and traveling worth it.