April 28, 2015

(De)classified information

"Instead of focusing on how much you can accomplish, focus on how much you can absolutely love what you’re doing.” 

I recently quietly disappeared. Details were few. My destination was unclear to many people, my reasons for going not known. My family did not join me. This was a mission I had to complete on my own. I... 

Okay, enough of that. It wasn't that serious. 

For a fortnight in April, I left the usual routine in order to participate in a joint Canada/U.S. Paracanoe/kayak training session in the warm waters in Florida.

Obligatory seabird nature shot.
In around Melbourne Beach, there is a long-established training facility used by sprint canoers and kayakers. You can typically find the Canadian team hiding down there for months at a time during the latter half of the winter as they prepare for the coming racing season. As a teenager, it was a training camp I only dreamed of going to.  

So how did I get there for this para camp, age 35? 

Prosthetic tan lines. #AmputeeProblems
In 2014, I took up sprint kayaking again after a lengthy hiatus from the sport. The para class became part of my motivation for getting back into the swing of things. Paracanoe—or PK1 as the cool kids call it-- will debut during the Paralympics in 2016. I had no ambitions toward the games at the outset of my return to the sport-- para was now being included in local regattas and that was good enough for me. 

Mostly, I was just super itchy to get back to the sport that I loved and had been away from for way too long. 

So, I did some able-bodied racing last year, as well as some para. Things evolved, and this para camp opportunity came along, essentially as a first step for Canadian and U.S. para paddlers on the road to Rio.

Enter the International Canoe Federation (ICF). 

The week before the start of our camp, the ICF met in Venice, Italy to review their disability classifications. I was previously—albeit it loosely--classified as a Legs-Torso-Arms (LTA) athlete.  As in, those elements all worked fairly well. My partial amputation qualified me to race in this particular class.

No longer, unfortunately, due to the new classifications from the ICF, which gives heavier weight to lower body injury / disability.  

errr.... anybody wanna buy a para class kayak? 
I will first of all suggest that I am not going to complain about being declassified as this basically sounds like me complaining about “being too able bodied”. I think they call that 'looking a gift horse in the mouth'? But this was disappointing news, for various immediate reasons: 
  • I just ditched my family for two weeks. Whoops.
  • Last year, I invested in a para kayak, required to race in the particular class. Money not well spent. Whoops.
  • This is Jamey, a U.S. V-1 paddler. He's a beast. 
  • Oh, and I left work for this camp during one of the arguably busiest times of the year. Whoops.

BUT, there are some silver linings here. I have jumped into a different class of boat called a va’a-- or V1 (again, as the cool kids call it). Essentially, it’s a modified outrigger. And I like it. It is likely that I will still classify for this boat, but the test has to be made this year at the second set of National Team Trials in Montreal in June, just to be sure, so it's possible that's my next step. 

Alas, even if I AM classifiable, the International Paralympic Committee  (IPC) ruled some months ago that this boat will not debut alongside the kayaks in Rio; a disappointment to a number of Canada's elite V-1 paddlers who have been working hard the last few years in anticipation of a paralympic debut.  Perhaps it will debut in 2020 at the Paralympics in Tokyo; time will tell.   

But here's another 'BUT': if the IPC doesn’t see participation from folks with a disability like mine, they will for sure drop this level of disability from their classifications, so I am somewhat behoven to show up at national team trials in June this year to say ‘yeah, people ARE interested’! 

So, stay tuned for more V1 news. In the meantime, have a gander at some of the fun from the Florida trip. It was a lot of great paddling, hard work, and an incredible bunch of people along for the ride. I made a rough cut of a video...it needs work and some more action footage before it's super-awesome, but it's a fun showcase of some super-awesome people. It’s as much a reflection of how pretty the locale was as much as it is about paddling and the paddlers. In any case, early reviews suggest the inclusion of an  ‘up my nose’ paddling shot is a fave. You be the judge :) 

So, it wasn't ALL work. Dinner out on the town!