Kayak Polo, Paracanoe Coaches win Havens Leadership Award

March 05, 2014, 11:23 p.m. (ET)


(Gale with the U.S. Women's Kayak Polo Team)

USA Canoe/Kayak names Kayak Polo Head Coach Stephen Gale, and Paracanoe coaches Col. Deborah S. Page and Jan Whitaker as recipients of the second annual Havens Leadership Award.

The award recognizes practices and behaviors that best serve the interests and success of USA Canoe/Kayak by improving performance, creating efficiencies or enhancing quality within the sport. The winners were selected by the USA Canoe/Kayak Board of Directors after a nomination process among USA Canoe/Kayak members.

Stephen Gale is recognized for his role as Head Coach of the U.S. Women’s Kayak Polo team that qualified for and competed in the 2013 World Games in Cali, Colombia, July 25 – Aug. 4. The U.S. women’s team had never before qualified for a World Games.

A native of Canmore, Alberta, Gale helped the Team USA qualify for the World Games and recorded its best finish at a World Championships. The U.S. defeated Canada at the 2012 Polo World Championships to becoming the highest-ranking team from the Americas. In Colombia, the team would finish 0-6 against the best teams in the world.

“Steve has dedicated so much for growing U.S. Kayak Polo, improving its performance and respect worldwide.  Coaching the U.S. women’s team for the past several years, he set a high standard for training and strong team dynamics,” said team member Katherine Homann. “His commitment even in the face of personal sacrifice … truly shows what it is to believe in a dream. He is a leader who continues to inspire us, and who has earned not only respect for a team, but respect for the USA and its continued success in Kayak Polo.”

Debby Page and Jan Whitaker share the Havens Award recognition for their joint efforts in building the U.S. Paracanoe program from the ground up. Both have served voluntary roles as coaches, advocates and team leaders. Together, they helped the U.S. win four medals at the 2013 Paracanoe World Championships, quadrupling its medal haul from the year before.

Off the water, they helped lobby successfully for Paracanoe’s inclusion in the 2016 Paralympic Games. Whitaker initiated the Paralympic pitch in 1998. Over the years, Page served as a team coach, coordinator, representative, and cook, while also serving as a race official.

Page competed internationally in the 1960’s, including being named to the 1966 U.S. World Championship Team. She also reached the rank of the colonel in the U.S. Air Force.

“Quite simply, without the efforts of these two women there would be no sport of Paracanoe/kayak in the Paralympic Games and there would be no USA Paracanoe/kayak team,” said Paracanoe athlete Bob Balk. “Their tireless dedication and passion to helping those in most need enjoy the water and paddling is nothing short of miraculous. I have had the sincere pleasure of being on the receiving end of this help and also watching them in action helping many, many others. The athletes they have served have a deep and sincere appreciation for all that they have done for them. I believe it is time for Debby and Jan to be recognized for their leadership and commitment to the sport of canoe/kayak as the true pioneers and legends of Paracanoe/kayak.”

Last year, Karla Westcott of the Wausau Canoe/Kayak Corp. and Jim Ross of the Washington Canoe Club became the inaugural recipients of the Havens Leadership Award.

The award honors the achievements of the Havens family. Both Bill Havens Jr. and Frank Havens competed in the London 1948 Olympic Games, with Frank winning Silver in the C1 10,000m. Frank claimed Gold in the C1 10,000, at 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland before finishing fourth and eighth at the next two Olympic Games.

Charles “Bud” Havens competed in canoe/kayak when it was a demonstration sport at the Paris 1924 Summer Olympic Games, winning four medals. Bill Havens Jr. was invited to the 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games before they were cancelled.

Frank’s son, Dan Havens, served as a volunteer Board member for the Washington Canoe Club for more than 30 years. Bill’s son, Keith Havens, started a canoe club in Michigan, while another son, Kirk Havens, has volunteered for the American Canoe Association for several years.

“I have known all the Havens since I was a teenager, and they were a big part of pursuing an Olympic dream,” Page said. “If you had ever heard Pappy Havens' voice, you would never forget it. I paddled many, many miles high kneeling in a rec canoe with Frank Havens as we trained for distance races. … I was at the 1989 World Masters Games with Bill, Jr. and Frank. I know all of their children as well. I don't need any other USA Canoe/Kayak award because I am so proud to have the one with the Havens name attached. Thank you for the honor.”

Click HERE and HERE to learn more about the Havens.


Debby Page: “I am thrilled with my selection for the Havens Leadership Award. I've often wondered if people realize how much blood (literally), sweat (not nearly enough) and tears (way too passionate about the sport for my own good) I have put into our sport since I first took an Olympic sprint kayak for a paddle and swim on 11 August 1961 at Washington Canoe Club. … I've been working on adaptive paddling since Mac Hickox asked me to take it on with zero budget in May 2008 when Paracanoe as a Paralympic sport was just a distant hope.” 

Gerald Babao, USA Canoe/Kayak Operations: “It is because of Deb and Jan’s inspiring dedication to the Paracanoe movement and their tireless efforts to go above and beyond their own personal endeavors that we proudly award them this honor. Both embody Havens’ spirit of leadership, contributing hundreds of hours of service to USA Canoe/Kayak that best serve the interests and success of USA Canoe/Kayak. I am very grateful for their support and have been since day one.”

Headquartered in Oklahoma City, USA Canoe/Kayak is a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Canoe Federation. It governs the Olympic disciplines of Flatwater Sprint, Whitewater Slalom, the Paralympic discipline of Paracanoe and sanctions Freestyle, Marathon, Outrigger, Wildwater, Stand Up Paddle Board, Kayak Polo, Dragon Boat and Canoe Sailing in the United States. For more information about USA Canoe/Kayak, please visit us on the web at www.usack.org, on Twitter at @usacanoekayak and Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/USACanoeKayak.