Blake Haxton competes at Rowing's U.S. Paralympic Team Trials on April 14, 2021 in West Windsor, N.J.
Hey Blake Haxton, you just punched your ticket to Tokyo! What are you going to do now? Disney World?
Well, it wasn’t quite a visit to Orlando that the 2016 Paralympic rower had on his mind after he secured his spot at the team trials in rowing.
“Next I’m trying to make the sprint canoe team at the last qualification regatta in Hungary. So that’s job number one,” Haxton said last month after racing uncontested in the men’s single sculls at the Caspersen Rowing Center in New Jersey. “I mean getting [to Tokyo] in one was beyond what I ever expected. And getting there in two might be a bridge too far, but I’m going to give it a shot.”
The “it” he is referring to is para-canoe sprint racing, a sport Haxton only took up in 2019. “I mean it’s really a reach. I kind of haven’t let myself think about making two because I was shooting for Paris 2024,” he said.
In 2019 he competed in the Canoe Sprint World Championships and only just missed qualifying for Tokyo. “But the extra year definitely helped. It gave me a lot more time to get up to speed. If I could make both, that’d be a dream come true situation.”
“To be able to compete in two — and hopefully one of these days medaling — it would be fantastic,” said the fourth place finisher in Rio.
He explained what is pushing him to qualify in two sports. “I really like paddling the canoe,” he admitted. “It’s a fun event. It’s 200 meters — not the mile and a quarter like in rowing — so it’s fun to race.”
The canoe he thinks was actually easier to learn: “technically, it’s probably harder to race because you can’t make any mistakes.” Not that you can make big ones in rowing, but you have time to make them up over 10 minutes and 2,000 meters. In canoe “if your starts off, you’re done. If you catch a wave wrong, you’re done. If you clip your paddle, you’re done. It’s a very intense 50 seconds, and you can pretty much tell who’s going to win by the 50-meter mark.”
And one of the best parts about it is, “It’s so much better looking forward than looking backwards — it’s nice to sit there and see the finish line.”
After crossing the line in New Jersey, Haxton said he would not be back in a rowing shell until after the canoe qualifier in Szeged, Hungary on May 14-16. And then if he qualifies, he’ll figure out then how to juggle the two sports, since “obviously the training is very different.”
For canoe he prepares by doing “more high-intensity sprints, as opposed to rowing where it’s a steady, longer type of training,” he said. “But I’ve been getting a kick out of doing both.”
“I’ll probably spend time on the water in the canoe, and then time on the rowing machine,” he guessed. “In canoe I’m in a much steeper place in the learning curve, so I want to spend more time and energy getting used to it.”
He was thankful his training during the pandemic was not affected too much. “I almost feel bad admitting this, because so many athletes couldn’t train, but I had my weights and my rowing machine and that’s where I spend most of my time anyway,” Haxton said.
The trials in Princeton were the first time the para-rower had left his home state of Ohio since the pandemic began. “With nothing else to do, I got a lot of training in last year, so I feel pretty good about the shape I’m in.”
Getting to fly — and compete — internationally again will be “interesting,” he said about the last Paralympic qualifier before Tokyo. “I have no idea what it will be like. I’ll be fully vaccinated before I go, but we’re still figuring out logistics and testing protocols and all those things. It’s new for everybody.”
“For me, I’m just grateful to be healthy, grateful to be employed, and grateful to be able to compete again,” Haxton said.
The U.S. oarsman earned his law degree from the Ohio State in 2016 and currently works as an Investment Research Associate for Diamond Hill Capital Management in Columbus. “Our firm did a really good job of moving remotely and making it easy on us to keep working, so my job wasn’t that impacted. I’m just grateful I got through the year and got to trials.”
And once he gets through the 2021 ICF Paracanoe World Cup 1, getting to Tokyo and hopefully trying to juggle two sports at the Paralympics will be a challenge he welcomes.
“There’s two or three days off between rowing finals and canoe heats, so it looks like the schedule lines up perfectly,” he said. “But like everything this year, there’s going to be things we need to change. I should be able to do both, and be able to do both one hundred percent.”
“But I don’t think anyone knows what’s going to happen,” Haxton said. “With everything going on, you just have to be flexible and keep an open mind. We’re all doing this live, so we shall see what happens.”
Either way, it will be fun to watch this two-sport athlete push hard to punch two tickets to Tokyo.