A Pioneer in Paddling
BY Shannon Connolly
June 10 2008 12:00 AM ET
Now that you’ve come out of your injury and you’re fully recovered, what is your training schedule like? I don’t train as hard as I used to, but I definitely do a lot of gymnastics, a lot of core work, physical training in my boat. I do at least one training session a day and then I go paddling.
When you’re preparing for a competition, especially if it’s in an area of the world you’ve never been to, do you do anything other than physical training to prepare? We spend a lot of time doing what we call “scouting” the river. If I’m competing down a new piece of white water that I haven’t paddled, I’ll scout out the entire section and I’ll landmark particular points in the river, and on what side of the river I need to be, and what sort of stroke to use at particular parts of that white water. I’ll really break it down and analyze it and almost draw a bit of a river map in my head about where I need to go. And then I’ll probably spend at least a week there beforehand practicing on that piece of white water because one of the coolest things about the river is, depending on the weather, whether it’s snowmelt-related or rain-related, the river level can change, so you’ve got to be able to paddle it at different levels. Also acclimatizing to the culture, to the people, how the shuttle systems are going to work, running the river, whether I’m paddling alone or with some teammates.
So, do you usually travel with a group? Do you ever get to bring along friends or family to come see you in action? Well, coming from Australia, my parents haven’t been overseas to see me compete, but when I compete in Australia, they definitely come. I generally travel with another Teva athlete named Nikki Kelly. We’re like a little bit of a Southern Hemisphere duo. We come over here and we travel together to events. And she paddles at a very similar standard and enjoys training at a very similar level so we get along very well. Through the years, teammates have come and gone. People have gotten motivated and demotivated, and you get older, so you tend to paddle with an older crowd. Definitely Nikki Kelly has been a big part of my career and is a great paddle partner. She usually either beats me or I beat her. So it’s quite funny always traveling with your nearest competitor.
Do you two tend to run into the same people at different competitions? Yeah, there’s definitely a core set of people who follow the circuit. And then you have up-and-comers who are getting involved and try to push their limits a little bit. But there’s definitely a core group that you’ll see at every competition and you know you’ll always try to beat the same people. And then you’ve got the locals, and it’s really good to see locals get involved because they’re the next generation. I definitely spend a lot of time getting involved with the local community there and help develop some of the paddlers who may not be paddling at the same standard as the elites.
Have you found it to be a particularly male-dominated sport? Absolutely, but I think that’s slowly changing in part because the equipment is becoming more female-friendly. For a long time, boats were heavy, boats were too long, boats were too hard to turn, and now a lot of the new boats, they actually have female sizes, and it makes it a lot easier than, say, even five years ago.
And I noticed you personally have a website with four other women, called the “River Angels”? Yeah, so the River Angels is a group dedicated to trying to get more women into the sport. In kayaking, you have a “hump,” where you realize you’ve got a lot to learn and you go “Oh, my God, I can’t do this.” The website’s main reason is to get people over that hump and then into the next stage of kayaking -- it sounds corny, but you become one with the river, you begin to understand how the water works and how to then really enjoy kayaking without having any of the fears holding you back.