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.
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.
Working with the University of NSW and Sports Medicine Australia, I developed a tool for young athletes to assess if they are over training. This included a number of quick tests which gave instant feedback to the user.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.