Shaye Hatchette poses for a photo after being named the Next Olympic Hopeful for the sport of kayak on July 30, 2018 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Shaye Hatchette didn’t know at first the proper way to sit in a kayak. Even now she said it feels like “sitting on a medicine ball” as the boat glides across the water.
It’s a balancing act Hatchette has been working on over the past few months, but it hasn’t always gone well. She has fallen out of her kayak at least 100 times since taking up sprint kayaking after graduating from college in May.
“There’s definitely a learning curve with kayaking, with the instability of the boat,” said Hatchette, a native of Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. “There’s trial and error, I think, with every sport, but with kayaking I definitely fell out a lot.
“I had my fair share of fallouts and you get all wet, and you just get back into the boat and keep going and try again.”
As a former gymnast, Hatchette has more balance than other athletes — which served her well when she got on the water and pursued her Olympic dream through “Milk Life presents, Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful.”
The 22-year-old Hatchette was named one of the eight winners on the show’s second season, which aired on the networks of NBC throughout Thanksgiving weekend. She showed she could quickly pick up sprint kayaking and learn how to paddle smoothly with her hands and legs in the right position.
“One good thing about her having never kayaked before is that she has no bad habits in terms of bad technique,” said Morgan House, who coached Hatchette as director of high performance with the American Canoe Association.
“She’s actually been able to learn the proper way to paddle basically from the very beginning of her paddling career. That’s really been amazing to see her go from not knowing how to paddle to paddling well in such a short amount of time.”
While in Colorado for Next Olympic Hopeful, Hatchette told House that she wanted to be a sprint kayaker. He thought she had confused kayaking with rowing, which she had competed in while at the University of Central Oklahoma.
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Shaye Hatchette trains at Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful on July 29, 2018 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
She wasn’t mistaken, though.
Hatchette has played several sports over the years, including as a midfielder on the women’s soccer team after transferring to Oklahoma Christian University. However, she wanted to see how she’d do racing a kayak across flat water, especially if it could carry her to the Olympics.
“The big part about learning how to paddle is learning how to balance the boat,” House said. “Of course, she’s flipped probably 100 times before she’s been able to paddle well.
“That’s to be expected, but she has exceeded my expectations, I would say, in terms of the learning curve.”
Hatchette initially hoped to make the Olympics as a gymnast. Her parents got her involved in the sport at 3 because she was a kid with a lot of energy. By 7, Hatchette was dreaming of competing in the Olympics like her childhood heroes — highly decorated gymnasts Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin and Shannon Miller. The latter, like Hatchette, is from Oklahoma.
“I have Mary Lou Retton’s autograph in my room right now,” Hatchette said.
However, she quit gymnastics because the competitions and five-hour training sessions were taking up too much of her childhood. She next tried her hand at soccer, softball, track and field, swimming and cheerleading.
Hatchette’s hopes of someday making the Olympics seemed like a pipe dream by the time she graduated from Central Oklahoma earlier this year with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
However, she didn’t have a career plan mapped out after graduation, so when Hatchette saw an advertisement for Next Olympic Hopeful on Facebook, she decided to apply for the show.
“Had I not gone on the show, I probably would be working as a victim advocate or inside a police department. But my dream job with criminal justice was working for the FBI,” Hatchette said. “Of course life takes you in different ways, and I think God had a different plan.
“I always wanted to be an athlete and I’ve had that Olympic dream, but it got reawakened with Next Olympic Hopeful. It gave me the opportunity that I needed to kind of start pursuing that again.”
Hatchette has moved from Oklahoma to Gainesville, Georgia — which served as the kayak venue for the Olympic Games Atlanta 1996 — to train with House and continue her development as a sprint kayaker.
She’s on a lake practicing six days a week, usually for 3-6 hours a day. She has been training consistently at kayaking for the past two months.
A novice at the beginning of the year, Hatchette hopes to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“I think it’s a great honor to be an Olympic athlete,” Hatchette said. “It takes extreme discipline, and I’ve always just loved the mentality that it takes to be an athlete and the structure that it has.”
Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.