Going Solo, Olympic Canoeist Devin McEwan Paddles Into New Era Of His Career

By Mike Miazga | Sept. 12, 2017, 12:47 p.m. (ET)
Devin McEwan warms up for the men's C1 qualification of the ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup on June 23, 2017 in Augsburg, Germany.


There comes a time in an athlete’s career when it’s time to hit the reinvent button.

And that’s exactly what 2016 Olympian Devin McEwan is in the midst of doing.

The 32-year-old McEwan, a native of Salisbury, Connecticut, and a member of the U.S. canoe slalom team, is downsizing. Following the Olympic Games Rio 2016, in which he and partner Casey Eichfeld finished 10th together in doubles canoe, the partners decided to focus on the singles boat.

“Casey is more Olympic-focused,” McEwan said. “He’s currently the No. 1 singles boat in the U.S. We shifted gears, and now I’m focused on singles.”

McEwan, whose father, Jamie, was a two-time Olympian and Olympic bronze medalist in the sport, has competed in two world cup events this year and his last race of the season is scheduled at the U.S. national championships in October in Dickerson, Maryland.

While Eichfeld works toward a fourth Olympic Games, McEwan said he’s taking a long-view approach, similar to his dad.

“My dad first competed in the Olympics in 1972 when he was 19, and his next Olympics was in 1992 when he was 39,” said Devin McEwan, who made his first national team with his dad in 2001. “He was competing more in the world cups and world championships instead. He wasn’t as Olympic-focused, and I’m like that. I do the sport because I love doing it.”

McEwan admitted going the singles route has taken some getting used to.

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“It’s definitely strange,” he said. “For me, I haven’t placed as well so far in singles. In a way there is a lot more pressure because you have nobody else to rely on. In another way, it’s a relief because you don’t have to coordinate the training aspect. Sometimes it’s simpler to do things on your own.”

The veteran paddler said it’s almost like he’s had to relearn the sport he loves since hopping in the singles boat.

“I’ve been trying to figure out how to do this without someone else in the boat making me look good,” he said with a laugh. “Broadly speaking, any successes or mistakes are totally your own. There is nobody there to commiserate or celebrate with. It’s definitely a new day for me.”

Growing up, McEwan said his dad’s involvement in the sport led to him and his siblings, at a minimum, dabbling in the sport.

“He made sure all the kids tried it,” he said. “I took to it the most and ended up competing in the doubles category with him for a while. When I first started doing it I was in the front of the boat and not doing too much work with him. I didn’t think it would end up being a serious pursuit or a future career. I was doing it for fun and to spend time with my dad.”

McEwan said he didn’t take to the sport in a serious nature “until pretty late with my dad when we made the national team in 2001.”

When asked to put into words why he enjoys the sport so much, McEwan took things in a couple directions.

“It’s a very dynamic sport with the nature of the water changing all the time,” he said. “It forces you to play attention. There is that synergy with the water. It’s a cool way to commune with the natural element of water.”

And there is the technical aspect that appeals to him.

“It’s a highly technical sport,” he said. “There also is a definite physical aspect to it; you have to be in decent shape. With the higher-end technical part, the closest parallel to our sport is boxing and wrestling. The water is so unpredictable that it’s both a collaborator and an opponent at the same time. Even the best in the world at this can get better.”

Looking to the future, McEwan said he would contemplate a return to the doubles side, should he find the right partner.

“It’s tough finding a good doubles partner,” he said. “The sport is marginal in the U.S. There aren’t that many people to choose from. Finding the right partner is pretty darned important. You both need to mesh technically and inter-personally. It’s easier to train with someone if you are vibeing together. Finding the right person is pretty essential.

“For the time being, I’m focusing on singles.”

Mike Miazga has written about Olympic sports for nearly 25 years and is the former editor in chief of Volleyball Magazine. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.