History was made when athletes from around the world, with physical disabilities, were able to compete for the first time at the 2009 ICF Sprint World Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada this past week. Coached by Jan Whitaker and Deborah Page, USA Canoe/Kayak fielded a team of six athletes, making history itself, by securing three medals and one, very strong, fourth place finish.
This year, four PaddleAbility races were scheduled to show the world that the International Canoe Federation (ICF) with support from Federations around the world, including the United States, is committed to bringing canoe and kayak sprint into the Paralympic Games. The decision was made by the ICF prior to the 2009 Worlds that in order for inclusion into the games by 2016 to be a stark possibility, the PaddleAbility races at worlds must always be on the schedule at future sprint world championships. It's now up to each country and Federation to do its part to make this dream a reality.
Gold Caps Successful Week of Racing
On Sunday, the mixed C-2 TA/LTA* 200m USA PaddleAbility team of Augusto "Goose" Perez (East Syracuse, NY) and Tami Hetke (Boulder Creek, CA) took first place, winning Team USA's first ever gold medal in the PaddleAbility category. Perez and Hetke, primarily outrigger canoe racers, used their paddling experience to start strong and finish even stronger, besting Italy by six seconds. The team had no practice time together prior to arriving in Halifax. Tami, an amputee, has raced numerous times in outrigger and has even completed the famed, Molokai Challenge, a 55-mile outrigger race from Molokai to Hawaii and back. Goose is also a successful outrigger racer but more importantly, a Paralympian. Goose, a high level amputee, is currently training for the 2010 Paralympic Games in Vancouver where he is Lead Skip for Team USA Paralympic Curling.
Minutes before, the mixed K-2 TA/A* 200m PaddleAbility team of Mark Dunford (Orchard Park, NY) and Rebecca Lloyd (Lima, NY) finished second, capturing Team USA's second medal of the Championships. Like Perez & Hetke, Dunford and Lloyd met for the first time on the water in Halifax but soon found out that they would work very well together. Team Dunford and Lloyd finished thirty-two seconds ahead of third place Canadian team and is already looking ahead to 2010.
Earlier in the weekend, PaddleAbility athlete Robert Brown (Moncks Corner, SC) secured Team USA's first ever PaddleAbility medal finish, with a third place bronze in the K-1 Men's LTA* 200m competition. Brown had a tremendous start but was eventually overtaken by Italy and Brazil. Surprisingly, Brown, a Wounded Warrior (www.woundedwarriorproject.org), member of Team River Runner (www.teamriverrunner.org) and whitewater paddler, began sprint paddling only months ago.
Meanwhile, Tammy Jopson (Rochester, NY) narrowly missed a podium position by four seconds, finishing fourth to Canada, Italy and France in the K-1 Women's LTA* 200m competition. Tammy is the lone holdover from 2008, when USA Canoe/Kayak sent a team to compete at the European Championships. (The ICF invited countries to participate in its first ever PaddleAbility exhibition of races.) As a "veteran" athlete of Team USA, she is already looking forward to 2010 Worlds where she has vowed to come away with a medal.
Congratulations to Team USA! Their efforts were not only historical but also truly remarkable.
Special thanks goes to USA's coaches, Jan and Deb, for their continued commitment to the PaddleAbility program. Our participation at 2009 Worlds would not have been possible without their support. Also, many thanks to boat technician, Rich, and to NELO for helping us fine-tune our boats, all week.
For more information on 2009 Team USA PaddleAbility please visit http://www.usack.org/athlete?tag_id=8128
For questions or comments, please contact Gerald Babao at 704-348-4330, ext 225 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*What were the PaddleAbility racing categories (classification) for 2009 Worlds?
'LTA' (Legs, Trunks, Arms): Paddlers who have the use of their legs, trunks and arms.
'LT' (Legs, Trunk): Paddlers who have some trunk movement but are not eligible to propel the boat through hip rotation due to significantly weakened function of the lower limbs.
'A' (Arms only): Paddlers who have no or minimal trunk function (shoulder function only) The paddler is able to supply force predominantly using the arms and/or shoulders.