Thank you and goodnight

After a really fun weekend of racing, it all came down to one mistake on the bottom part of the course.

Unfortunately, that means that I did not get to Olympics but on the positive side, I did finish my career at my home course surrounded by my family and friends, paddling fast… that is not a bad way to go out.

I am going to take some time to work out my plans for the immediate future but I wanted to thank the people that have made my time paddling such a wonderful experience.

The coaches and support staff at the AIS, my fellow paddlers for the camaraderie and the laughs, Han and Hannah for helping me re-find the joy in paddling and my amazing Family.

The Final Countdown

I guess that’s what happens in the end; you start thinking about the beginning.

There are 4 days to go to the Oceania Open. This will be the final selection race for the Olympic Games. Depending on the result it may be my last race in a 20 year odyssey that has taken me from a small pond in the Forest of Dean to Sydney and many place in between.

I remember writing out my goals when I was about 10 or 11 and they were pretty simple. One was to be Olympic Champion and the other was to grow be 6 foot 6 inches. At 6 foot 2 inches, I have been pretty comfortable for a while, knowing that I would not grow the remaining inches. Knowing that I probably will not reach goal number 1 and realising that is not such a bad thing, has taken me a lot longer to get to grips with.

My career really started for me (in my mind) in Ireland when I was 9. I paddled for Wales for the first time and my photo made the cover of a major Irish Newspaper, needless to say, I thought I had made it! From there I gradually got more and more in to paddling and travelled all over Europe as a Junior. In 2002 I competed at the Junior World Championships.

Then came the move to Australia and the tough transition from the Junior to Senior ranks. In 2006 I made my first Senior World Championships. 2006 was also the year of my first major injury. A broken collar bone and surgery made 2006-2007 a very tough time, that was the first time I had stopped progressing in my sport and my morale suffered accordingly. I fought back hard in 2008 and thought I was on the verge of recapturing the momentum only to dislocate my shoulder. In 2009 I made my second World Championship. This was followed later in the year by a recurrence of my shoulder dislocation, this time I required surgery. Since my return from surgery I have been injury free and even won my first major competition when I won the Oceania Championship in 2011.

I have certainly experienced many ups and downs in my career (slalom pun intended) and my goals for my sport have evolved accordingly. Up until the time of my second injury my life revolved around the result. The rare good result and the world was ok, the much more common bad result and the sky might fall in. Slowly, I have come to the point where a good result would be nice but really, I just hope that I paddle to the best of my ability. This way I can actually happy most of the time. Ironically, if I had told myself this at the start of my career, I would have told myself to shove off (or words to that effect).

What have been the highlights of my time on the water? It is funny to me that probably my fondest memory is not of my paddling but of my sister being promoted to Division 3 (there are Divisions in British slalom) at a flat water course called Langham Farm. She is the reason that I am in this sport and someone I have always tried to emulate and seeing her succeed was better for me than anything I ever did. Of my own paddling, there have not been as many podiums and successes as I dreamt about as a young boy but there have been a few, all too brief times, when the World has seemed to slow and I was in control of the water. One competition in particular stands out in my mind where I felt and paddled like I could take on the World and win.

If I manage to win this weekend then I will be on my way to the London Olympics. If not, my life will start a new journey, one that will be daunting, exciting and new, a life without Slalom but one full of all the wonderful things that Slalom has given me.

I guess that’s what happens in the end; you start thinking about new beginnings.

Bourg

We are in Bourg Saint Maurice, in the French Alps, for a week of training and a race.

As I am writing this I can hear the sound of singing coming from the Military Training Camp which is just next door to our apartment. I cannot vouch for their fighting skills but if there was a “sing off” instead of war these guys would definitely win.

The apartment Kate, Christian and I are staying in is about the size of most peoples’ bathrooms and I have to fold my bed up in the morning so that we can fold out the kitchen table. That is ok though as we are spending most of our time either training or in the Boulangerie trying the various French pastries.

Kate, Christian and me

Bourg is a great course, it is one of the steepest Slalom venues in the world with very fast water making it really tough to get on line and then to stay on it. I have missed more gates in 3 days here than I have in my whole trip so far.

Physically everything is going well, my shoulder which had been giving me problems seems to have benefited from the rest I gave it.

Being able to paddle freely has also helped my enjoyment of the trip. I have been able to focus on some of the technical areas that I need to improve on if I am to be competitive.

The race is this weekend and should be a good field and a challenging course. The Aussie Under 23 team are also here along with a number of other countries.

Christian on Bourg

I believe that the Saturday qualification will be on the bottom part of the river with the Finals being held on the more challenging top section.

Augsburg

I have  finished my travelling for now after arriving in Augsburg last week, we have settled into our apartment that will be our base for the next few months. It is nice to be able to unpack and start to get in to more of a normal routine.

Augsburg Eiskanal

We have travelled 6,000kms in the last month so it is also nice to be out of the car.

My injury problems are starting to clear up, my shoulder has been responding well to the copious amount of exercises that I have been doing for it but I decided not to race in Merano this weekend as I do not want to push it that hard yet. Christian and Kate are going to be racing along with the Under 23 team. The link to the race website is here.

The water levels here in Augsburg have meant that the main channel, the “Eiskanal” had not been running for a while. The whole of Europe is going through a bit of a drought at the moment and so it was a nice change when it started raining two days ago and there was enough water in the river to turn on the Eiskanal. Hopefully this will continue although there is still excellent training here regardless and I am going to be doing a lot of paddling in the next few months (shoulder permitting) and I might even be able to get some of the moves on this course, which I find particularly challenging due to the narrowness of the course and the variability in the water.

Liptovsky

We are now in Bratislava after a week in Liptovsky Mikulas, Eastern Slovakia.

We were in Liptovsky for a three day race that doubled as an International Ranking Race and also selection for Slovak, Russian and Polish selection. Understandably, this led to some pretty high quality racing.

Results can be found here

Liptovsky 2011

I was really pleased with parts of my racing but wasn’t able to put it all into a full run. A sure sign that my technique is changing was the number of penalties I got. I think I missed 4 gates and hit 10 in 5 runs and that included one clean run. I have been working hard to become more aggressive with my paddling and these sort of weekends are going to be inevitable but I used to pride my self on my lack of penalties and so the shift in mindset is going to take time.

Bratislava is three hours from Liptovsky and is a city of 500,000 although it seems bigger than that for some reason.

We are in there somewhere!

We are staying in an apartment not far from the Tesco shopping centre in a group of flats that I have to admit always regarded as the “ghetto” when I had been to Bratislava previously, especially as our car was stolen from the Tesco carpark in 2004. It is not the ghetto of course and it teaches me another valuable lesson that the facade is no indication of the person inside. Having said that, we were advised not to leave anything inside the car at night or to leave it too close to the path in case it is vandalised.

On the way to the Police station in 2004 (In the back of the police car)

My shoulder has flared up again. It seems to get worse on the courses with the bigger whitewater, it must be the extra strain. I am going to take some time off the water and wait for it to get better now. It seems like the only way after trying to push through and manage the pain for a few weeks.

Pau

We have arrived in Pau in the South of France after our first week in Europe was spent in the Catalan town of La Seu D’Urgell (Seu).

We raced Saturday and Sunday in a two part series called the Pyrenees Cup. The course in Seu is quite narrow and very hard going if you are not on the right line and after some really good starts to my runs I felt like I was taking the circuitous route to the finish line. It was physically tough race and a couple of penalties in the Semi-Final put me in 30th place.

This weekend’s race in Pau is the second instalment of the Pyrenees Cup and also acts as the selection for the French Team. Pau is a very different course to Seu. It is a wide and fast river and I am enjoying feeling the speed on the boat.

 

The Pau course

 

Lots of spectators at the 2009 World Cup

I have been having a few niggling problems with my shoulder but hopefully they will improve before the race.

This injury plus some tough paddling lessons has made the trip so far a lot harder than I had imagined. Hopefully with some rest my shoulder will start to improve and from there I just need a few lucky breaks and then anything is possible.

A new beginning

As Robert C. Gallagher once said, Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.

I am leaving Penrith in a few days to head to Europe for 7 or so months of paddling, travelling and most of all fun… well definitely the first two and hopefully the third.

I have had an exciting and active year since recovering from shoulder surgery. I have:

  • lost 20kgs
  • become the Vice-President of our Canoe club
  • covered 3000kms in my training
  • lifted over 200 tonnes of weights
  • worked full time
  • become Oceania Champion

Those are the positive things. Life however, as most discover, is not defined by the successful and easy things but by the challenges.

I have rediscovered the hard lesson, that in sport, except for the very few, you do not finish as a ‘winner’.

Over the years the cliché “it does not matter where you finish as long as you do your best” has been the idea that I have been moving towards but this has been a long journey for someone who was so keen on sport probably because of a deep desire to be the best. The challenge for me is in trying reconciling these two feelings that can, in a bitterly ironic way, make things incredibly hard.

When you win, you can end up thinking about all the technical errors you have made and when you come lower in the standings but paddle well, you have that desire that you had won “at all costs”.

As I launch into my travels, I understand that the challenges before me are substantial and many of those are very close to home!

It’s paddling Jim, but not as we know it

The whitewater has just come back on at the Penrith Course after a two week break for winter and today was my first session on the course since I dislocated my shoulder about 10 months ago.

Unsurprisingly I did not feel fantastic! You forget how physical and specific slalom paddling can be.

I knew I was in for a tough session when I found it hard going walking back up to the top (as the conveyor belt wasn’t working). It was nice to be back out there again and hopefully next time it won’t be quite so hard.

The Canoe Slalom Worlds are on this week and I am looking forward to seeing the Aussies do well.

Still no news on who is going to be running Australia after our election although I was happy to see that David Bradbury scraped home to hold onto Penrith. In the Senate the party I voted for was way out of it but under the strange Australian voting system, my vote then went to the Australian Sex Party which I thought was hilarious.

Training at the AIS

I have been down at the AIS for the last week working on strength training. The facilities here are absolutely amazing.

The other thing that I find unique and refreshing here is the amount of support that is available to you. I can speak to Strength and Conditioning, physiology and recovery specialists in a morning of training.

It is also inspirational to see all the world class athletes training. You pretend not to care but when you see a “big name” you can’t help but stop and stare!

It is times like these when you wish that the Slalom program could be in Canberra and that we could have this all the time but then I suppose it might not be as special to experience it.

I am here for another week before resuming “normal service” up in Penrith. This will mean being able to get back on the Whitewater which is really what all this training is for.

The Slalom Team will be competing at the Slalom Worlds from the 9-12 September and you can follow their progress here. I am sure there will be some great Aussie results.

Looking Forward

It has been a while since my last website update but I have now started updating my website to better include social media and so I had better start writing a bit more to be inkeeping with this theme!

Since having surgery on my shoulder last year I have had a large focus on things outside of paddling but now that I am starting to get more mobility and strength back into my shoulder I am starting to enjoy my training a lot more.

I am heading over to th UK for the 2nd time this year in July to attend Ben and Heather’s wedding which I am really looking forward to although it is a bit strange not to be going to any racing. I worked out the other day that this is the first time in 10 years that I have not been on one representative team or another so it is a real change!