Inside the 2019 ICF Freestyle Worlds – #3 The Waiting Place
by Kathy Holcombe
Everyday during the 2019 ICF World Freestyle Championships, Kathy & Peter Holcombe are sending us their views on what is going on in Sort (Spain) where the worlds are taking place this year. Follow along each day as they recap what they see from the river bank.
Sunday, the schedule was blank with the exception of team training – the last opportunity for athletes to rehearse their rides before the preliminary events begin tomorrow. While we tend to focus on the epic tales of triumph and defeat, the make or break moments that all culminate in the title of world champion, there is so much more than the handful of rides that makes this event the experience of a lifetime for so many athletes from around the world. It’s a gathering place for an eclectic consortium of contenders who each arrive with different stories and expectations that all intertwine together the make the freestyle world championships remarkable.
There are the usual suspects who have graced the podium countless times over the years, each having carved a mark in the history of the sport, and who continue to sculpt the scene through their continued excellence, and by sharing their experience and expertise with up-and-coming athletes as they navigate their own paths through the world championships. But there are literally hundreds of others who are on their own journey, who are not necessarily focused on earning a medal, but in supporting their team-mates, improving their skillset, representing their country, reconnecting with friends from around the world, and experiencing a new place. Each athlete has a story to tell, and here are a few of the highlights.
In an interview earlier this week, Canadian Nick Troutman, shared his perspective on competing at the highest level and said, “Competition is a game, and as long as you have fun playing the game, you always come out ahead. This might be my year to win the world championships, or it might be my year to help someone else win their world title. As long as I enjoy the process, it is always a great experience.”
Alec Voorhees from Idaho competed in the world championships as a junior in 2013 in North Carolina and again in 2015 at the Ottawa. He described that first experience of competing for a position on team USA and then training for his first ever world championships as an incredible catalyst for personal growth. That experience prompted him to get serious about training which catapulted is paddling to a whole new level. His second world championship experience in 2015 was a little bit different in the regard that this time he returned as one of the favorites with an excellent chance of claiming the title of champion. His training for that event was even more focused and the pressure was intense. He brought home a silver medal and was proud of his performance, but found the entire experience to be somewhat anticlimactic in that the training for months leading up to the event was all consuming, and once on the other side of the event was left with the obvious the question of “Now what?”. Alec is dedicated to the sport and has returned to the world championships once again, but this time as an official judge. He has spent the days leading up the event on the side of the river, volunteering his time to coach, mentor and spend time with incredible friends from around the world.
Peter and Jack Newland are a father and son who have both qualified for a position on the Australian freestyle team. They live outside of Melbourne where the nearest whitewater is over four hours away and is rain dependent, which means that their local river is not so close and only runs about four times a year. Other than a few international paddling trips each year, this duo spends most of their time paddling in the local high school swimming pool practicing flatware freestyle. When talking with 58 year old Peter, he expressed that any day spent paddling is a great day and he is soaking up every minute of training time on whitewater while he has the opportunity. At age 18, this is Jack’s second world championships, and all of his time training in flatware seems to be carrying over nicely to whitewater, and he is definitely one to watch in the junior men’s preliminary rounds tomorrow. What an extraordinary shared experience this must be for them to compete together at the highest level in their sport.
There are three other families here competing as well, only the kids have at least a decade before they are old enough to qualify for the opportunity to represent their countries. Peter and Nina Csonka from Slovakia, are both highly decorated whitewater paddlers and have spent the last several weeks living out of their van near the feature in Sort. They arrive each day at the feature with their five year old son Petko and swap turns training and parenting. Emily and Nick Troutman, from Tennessee, are both former world champion freestyle kayakers and icons in the paddling community. They are here with their children Tucker, age 5, and Parker, age 2. Both kids caught a cold on the flight over and the parents are scrambling trying to balance caring for cranky kiddos while training for a shot at the gold. Jezz Jezz and Claire O’Hara are the new parents on the block with 6 month old daughter Sky making her debut appearance in the freestyle community. Both parents have been busy juggling the demands of an infant while competing, coaching, commentating and attending committee meetings. Being a parent is a difficult job and doing so while both parents compete at the top of the freestyle game is impressive. Kudos to you all!
One last thought as we transition out of training mode and into the competition mindset. I think Phil Shepard from Canada said it best, “The thing I love about paddling is getting out there with my friends. For me, it’s about pushing myself and learning new things, and when I’m sitting in the eddy watching my friends do something rad, I am just as happy for them. The world championships is about coming together with friends from around the world, pushing yourself to be better than you were the day before, and celebrating when someone does something extraordinary.”