2016 and Beyond: A New Hope for Paracanoe Athletes

Dec. 05, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

woldWold at the 2012 U.S. Olympic and Paracanoe Team Trials for Flatwater Sprint

Ryan Padilla (Gig Harbor, Wash.) was a professional snowboarder. Joshua Wold (Tumwater, Wash.) was an Army Ranger sniper. Both men would go on to represent the U.S. at the 2012 Paracanoe World Championships in Poznan, Poland, May 16-17.

Right after high school, Padilla, 32, headed north to Mount Baker where he lived in a camper and snowboarded everyday. He began to get noticed by sponsors and would spend 10 months out of the year travelling to different competitions. 

Padilla stopped snowboarding to run his own construction company. On April 16, 2007, a two-story wall fell down on him. He broke nearly every rib and numerous vertebrae, punctured a long, and is now a T12 paraplegic.

“I should’ve died, but I scrambled out from underneath it and called an ambulance,” Padilla said.

Wold, 26, was serving in Baghdad, Iraq, when his vehicle drove over an improvised explosive device (IED) on September 2, 2007. Three people were injured. Wold suffered brain damage, hearing loss and lost over half of his right foot.

After initially thinking Wold just stubbed his toe, he applied his own tourniquet. He was taken out of the Green Zone by helicopter. Shrapnel had torn through his foot, cutting off circulation. Doctors performed a tarsometatarsal amputation.

Five years after these life-changing events and the two Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team (GHCKRT) members would compete in their first competitive Paracanoe race - the 2012 U.S. Olympic and Paracanoe Team Trials for Flatwater Sprint in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, April 20-21.

Each would place first to earn their spot on the 2012 U.S. World Championships Team. At Trials, Wold won in the Men’s Legs, Trunk and Arms 200m race while Padilla finished first in the Arms Only 200m race.

Joining them in Oklahoma City was Alan Anderson, Head Coach of the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team, which won the 2012 U.S. National Championship team title in Seattle in August. Anderson recruited both athletes and would love to see his club become a U.S. hub for Paracanoe, which will make its Paralympic debut at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Wold had been paddling flatwater sprint kayaks for three weeks prior to the 2012 Team Trials. His first taste of kayaking came in 2008 during rehabilitation at the Center for the Intrepid on the campus of the Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio. It was there that 1996 Olympic slalom kayaker Ben Kvanli taught him how to kayak in a pool.

Kvanli coordinates the San Antonio chapter of Team River Runner, a nonprofit organization designed to get wounded soldiers out of the water and paddling. After a few pool sessions, Kvanli and Wold made the trip to the whitewater of the San Marcos River. Adjusting to the speed of flatwater sprint kayaking has taken some getting used to for Wold.

“It’s great,” Wold said. “A little discouraging at this point in time, because I just got in a boat and I’m getting beat by a bunch of 12 and 13-year-olds. Besides that, it’s really good. Alan’s a great coach. He pulls me aside a lot and works with me one-on-one.”

Wheelchair sports didn’t excite Padilla. But he enjoyed working out and the strength advantage it gave him when he first stepped in a canoe, less than a year before the 2012 Team Trials. It didn’t hurt that Padilla was no stranger to competition.

“Any kind of competition is somewhat the same, you’re going up against somebody else,” Padilla said. “In snowboarding, everyone’s having a good time and enjoying the competition and feeding of each other, so I think that helps. I don’t get uptight in a competition situation.”

In his return to competitive sports, Padilla placed fourth in the Men’s K-1 Final, finishing nearly four seconds behind the bronze medal winner. Padilla also reached the Men’s V-1 Final. Wold reached the semifinals for Men’s K-1 Legs, Trunk and Arms. 

“I’m excited about the Paracanoe movement and what it means to this country and what it means to my community and my club,” Anderson said. “Working with athletes with disabilities is inspiring to the young kids. When Ryan falls out of his boat and gets right back in it and keeps going in that frigid water that we train in and does the long mileage that everybody else does, the kids they stop complaining so much. It’s good for them to see.”

USA Canoe/Kayak Board Chair Bob Lally hopes to see more athletes like Padilla and Wold join the Paracanoe movement at all levels, from club competition to racing for Team USA.

“USA Canoe/Kayak is truly excited that ParaCanoe is now a Paralympic discipline,” Lally said. “Our focus and goal over the next four years ramping up for the 2016 Paralympic Games are equal to all our other Olympic disciplines and that is to compete and win on the world stage.

“It goes without saying that the characteristics and attributes of water in itself are therapeutic. Our vision is to give all our disabled men and women the opportunity to paddle on our nations’ lakes, ponds and/or rivers.”

2016 and Beyond: U.S. Sprint Canoe Athletes Retrace Their Roots

USA Canoe/Kayak is a non-profit membership organization based in Oklahoma City, OK, promoting canoe and kayak racing in the United States. A member of the United States Olympic Committee, USA Canoe/Kayak is the national governing body for the Olympic sports of Flatwater Sprint and Whitewater Slalom and the official U.S. federation of the International Canoe Federation. Other paddling sports sanctioned by USACanoe/Kayak include Marathon, Freestyle, Wildwater, Stand Up Paddleboard, Canoe Polo, Canoe Sailing, Outrigger, and Dragon Boat. For more information about USA Canoe/Kayak, please visit us on the web at www.usack.orgon Twitter at @usacanoekayak and Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/USACanoeKayak.