As I pack up my kit, prep my boat and plan my race strategy for the longest paddle of my life this weekend, I have found myself reflecting on my journey to this point.
It was only a little over a year ago I emailed Steve Dawson with a picture of my plastic fishing kayak and announced I wanted to compete in the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic … he was very diplomatic.
Annette took me out for a paddle in a club ski on my first day, then over the coming months club members took it in turns to teach and encourage my paddling. Brian Willett, Bruce and Janet, Merle Lovelock, Una, Greg Robertson and Narelle Evans all took me for social paddles, and Steve and Bob Turner explained the basics of the forward stroke. Before I could catch my breath, John Mollard and Bill Lowe had sold me a boat, Bob supplied me with a split paddle and Kevin Nettle, Mick and Albert schooled me in race tactics. I was ready for my first marathon!
There are four distances available in the NSW series – 5K, 10K, 15K and 20K. I thought I would start at 10k and build up. Bob informed me that I was mistaken. If I wanted to do well at the big ultra-marathon races I needed to start doing some serious k’s, starting with the full distance at the marathon series, then a handful of 30K training paddles, night practice, and the Myall before finally attempting the Hawkesbury.
I packed up my car and drove to Wagga for the first marathon, where the fast-flowing waters, warm conditions and lack of race fitness were really going to test me. Thanks to some quick pre-race white water tips from Steve, and a soaking of lovely cool water from Deb Buchan, I made it round and posted a time! It was the start of a big year of paddling.
As the months ticked by, training began, the marathon circuit travelled around, and I got to know the rest of the racers at the Sutherland Shire. There was the unstoppable machine Kate Dawson, who always inspires me to work harder; super organised Ross and Robyn, who when not tearing up the course look after everyone else; fellow double paddlers Sue and Ian McGuinness, who keep you laughing all the way around; Kristy Benjamin who holds every record going at the classic; Naughty Nanna and Pops, Jeff and Deb Buchan; and Grandad Greg Archibald, who never seem fazed by anything.
My biggest competition and best training partner was Gareth Stokes, who pushed me all the way this year, and hopefully next year I’ll be pushing him from the back seat of a double. My mid-week training partner, singing fireman Andrew Giardini, helped wipe away my aches and pains with his limoncello after the Myall, along with a portion of my liver! Then there’s Bob Beers, David Little, and Pauline Findlay, whose optimism and determination help you focus on the challenge ahead; Bruce and Janet, who are crazy fast on the water and probably the nicest people on the planet; Bert Laurendet, who teaches me something new every week from his decades in the sport, and his wife Kaye who keeps us all on time! Club president John Denier pushes you further than you think you’ve got in training sessions and leads from the front in every race, and ‘Coach’ Bob Turner took time out of his sabbatical to really help me improve (I even got a “well done” out of him by the end of the season).
I’m sure there are many more I’ve forgotten to name-check, not to mention all those from other clubs across the state who have helped me drop the minutes and the weight along the way.
So as I line up on the start line in a couple of days’ time, I wanted to thank everyone who has got me to this place and taught me so much, shared their stories and advice, helped, encouraged, consoled and coached me along the way. You carried me to this point and hopefully this time I’ll be able to carry myself the rest of the way around.
** As you all know each year the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic raises money for The Arrow Foundation. If you’re not paddling and haven’t already, please consider donating to one of the club paddlers. It’s a great cause and even $5 can help! Numbers are down this year, so it’s even more important than ever. If you’re able, please do dig into your pocket and help keep our paddlers going through the night. **